Sixth graders from Park Rapids, Nevis, Laporte and St. Philip's School in Bemidji took in sunshine, fresh air and opportunities to learn about the environment Wednesday at Camp Wilderness on Bad Axe Lake.

Julie Kingsley, district manager for the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), said this is the 24th year for the Freshwater Festival, sponsored by the SWCD.

"This is an event for sixth graders, to give them information about water - all different aspects of water, how it affects every part of our life - just to get them outside, doing stuff, experiencing things that they probably haven't seen, done or connected before," she said.

SWCD District 4 supervisor Don Sells said the idea of the countywide event is exposure to the environment and "a lesson on respect for nature."

Classroom groups rotated through a series of stations where presenters shared their expertise. Topics included geographic information system (GIS) interactive mapping, soil health and erosion, dragonflies, fisheries, aquatic invertebrates, forest soils, loons, groundwater, aquatic invasive species and how to plant a tree properly.

Activities also included a science experiment that ended with a loud bang, kids pretending to walk like a loon and a campfire. Each student was sent home with a red pine seedling to plant.

Presentations ranged from the main pavilion to the waterfront and various campsites, shelters and program areas throughout the camp. They addressed what students can do personally to protect the quality of the freshwater in the local environment.

Among the presenters were representatives of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Itasca State Park, the Headwaters Science Center and the Minnesota Department of Health as well as interested individuals, such as John and Marlene Weber.

Sells said it was Tom Gibson's last year doing a campfire presentation about conservation in the character of "Sam Ting."

Also helping with snacks, meals, and chaperoning were volunteers from the Mantrap Valley Conservation Club Auxiliary and the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations.

A memorial to Charles "Shotgun Charlie" Pieper was on display in the dining hall. A longtime shooting instructor at the camp who frequently volunteered at past years' educational events, Pieper was planning to participate in the Freshwater Festival when he died last week, Kingsley said.