Student Megan Comella holds up a plankton tow which collects samples of plankton from the lake water. —Photos By Kerry Griebenow
Student Megan Comella holds up a plankton tow which collects samples of plankton from the lake water. —Photos By Kerry Griebenow
In an effort to assist high school students to become advocates for freshwater lake and watershed protection and management, the Three Lakes Waterfront Association (TLWA) began a plan in 2019 to expand the learning experience of students in the Three Lakes School District.

Today, that experience has come to fruition as part of the Aquatic Explorations program which is incorporated into the school’s current Global Science curriculum.

Global Science is a yearlong elective class available to juniors and seniors at Three Lakes High School and taught by Al Votis.

Aquatic Explorations is the brain child of long time TLWA volunteer Paul Matthiae, who has a background in natural resources management and research, and previously managed a university research station at UW-Milwaukee.  Matthiae explained the decision to start this program.

“I think we all agree that the learning experiences students have in school are often conveyed home to their parents and siblings.  That alone could be reason enough, as the student becomes, by extension an advocate for lake and watershed protection, management and wise use,” said Matthiae.

He said the program gets students on the water and gives them hands-on practical experience with the same equipment that aquatic scientists, managers and environmental engineers use.  

“And it will heighten their interest in supporting the association’s goals of long-term protection of the Chain’s aquatic ecosystem and watershed,” said Matthiae.

As a part of the program, students will be introduced to lake structures (physical, biological and chemical), lake classifications and human influences.  

“They learn the basic understanding of lake characteristics and the complexities of the functions and processes of the lakes, as well as an understanding of the need to protect and properly manage both the aquatic ecosystem and the watershed on which it is dependent,” added Matthiae.

In the past, the TLWA has had some difficulty finding a qualified student for its college scholarship, which requires a degree of  interest in environmental sciences or environmental engineering.  It is hoped the Aquatic Explorations program will encourage more students to look toward these career choices.

The TLWA has donated more than $7,500 in state-of-the-art equipment to the school district to give students the ability to sample lake bottoms and analyze their physical, chemical and biological substrates, to sample lake water for zooplankton and phytoplankton analysis, as well as the ability to measure lake water clarity and absorbed oxygen levels.

The TLWA is organized to preserve and protect Wisconsin inland waters, their watersheds and ecosystems in the Three Lakes area and has more than 600 family memberships. 

Information is available at TLWA.org.