Summer comes to the Henry’s Fork
In Ashton, the weather is getting hot as the summer comes, bringing with it a great number of work and projects to the Foundation. Anyone who comes in can immediately feel the energy of this bustling and busy office. Near the front door, Brady, Kristen, Tim and Julie are constantly going back and forth, preparing for the upcoming Henry’s Fork Days. In the back of the office, Christina, Jack, Melissa and Rob are engaged in various ongoing research projects.
I feel lucky to be part of the Foundation at this time of the year. As a student intern, I am able to participate in many different projects, learning the ups and downs of a small non-profit organization in terms of outreach and research. In the past few weeks of my internship, I have done many things and gained new experiences and memories, both during and outside of work.
The Trout in the Classroom field trip a few weeks ago is still freshly imprinted in my mind as one of my fondest moments this summer. Christina, Melissa, Rob, Jamie and I spent an entire day with the most enthusiastic, curious and clever fifth-graders from the Ashton Elementary school, educating them on the diversity and abundance of the Henry’s Fork, challenges the river is facing and what the Foundation is working on to protect and preserve the river and its watershed. As a leader of the postcard station, I enjoyed hearing the children recounting their amazing day learning about water quality, the Buffalo fish ladder and fly-casting, and encouraged them to record these memories in the forms of creative, colorful drawings and short writings to their family, friends and even their future selves! We also played the game “Bear, Trout and Mosquito”, now my favorite outdoor game of all time. As I am the youngest child in my family, it has been a while since I last held a conversation and interacted with young children. The local fifth-graders that I met in the Trout in the Classroom field trip were absolutely fun to hang around with, as they were very energetic and eager to learn. Some of the children even expressed their enthusiasm to work with the Foundation in the future! It is great to see how the Foundation’s outreach project with the local youth has great potential to create long-term positive impacts on the community-based joint effort in protecting the Henry’s Fork.
One of the projects that I’m most involved with during the internship is the creel and economic surveys on the Teton River in partnership with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The main goal of this project is to collect anglers’ fishing experiences and satisfaction with various fishing sites on the Teton River, as well as quantifying the impacts of angling and fishing on the local economy. The data collected from these surveys will help determine how important recreational fishing is to the local community. This information, in turn, can strengthen the advocacy for protecting and restoring the Henry’s Fork and its watershed. I am really excited to go outside and meet with anglers during my survey hours, observing, learning and promoting the Foundation to the wider community. The odd hours the survey takes place (as early as 7 in the morning and as late as 6 in the afternoon) were surprisingly pleasant and aesthetic experiences that allowed me to enjoy the peaceful sceneries, breath-taking sunsets and chilly, crisp morning air.
Every other day, I continue to join Christina on the Buffalo Fish Ladder, monitoring and measuring fish in the trap. For these past weeks, the number of spawning fish has been above average compared to previous years until this recent week when the number and size of trout in the trap slowly decreased. I have caught and measured rainbow trout that were 16 to 20 inches in length. This week, most fish in the Buffalo Ladder were small brook trout, rainbow trout, sculpin and shiner of 5 to 6 inches. We also noticed the significant decrease in water quantity in the Buffalo River, as the water level was not high enough to flow above the dam but through spaces on and under the dam. Summer has just arrived and the demand for water management is already urgent.
This week, I also joined Melissa and Jack, a fly-fishing-enthusiastic graduate student, on their water quality monitoring project. We went to several different locations along the Henry’s Fork and its tributaries to download data from sondes and collect water samples. The sondes that the Henry’s Fork Foundation installed in these locations allowed us to monitor temperature, conductivity, oxygen content and turbidity above and below the dam and to assess the impact of hydroelectric facilities, seasons, daily cycles and biochemical processes on water quality. Meanwhile, the water turbidity samples were analyzed at the end of the day with the turbidimeter in our lab.
A Hotel Hell episode on Angler’s Lodge in Island Park was aired the day of my first water quality trip. By some random chance of luck, Abi, Christina and Melissa were invited to Angler’s Lodge on the filming day, and interviewed by Gordon Ramsay himself! In anticipation of their celebrity moment, we decided to gather at Pond’s after work for a fun night out. Melissa, Jack and I decided to head straight to Pond’s after collecting the last water samples from the Buffalo confluence. A thunderstorm set in as we reached Pond’s, and under the pouring rain, the three of us did the water turbidity analysis together in the back of the old Suburban! Easily one of my most memorable experiences this summer. We also discovered that Jack was quite a botanist, knowing various wild plants and flowers along the hiking trail. He discovered spearmint on the trail along the Buffalo River, and it reminded me of my hometown in Vietnam and all the good food with spearmint as one of their must-have spice herbs.
Outside of work, I had a lot of fun exploring the north west part of this country. I went on a thermal feature tour to the Yellowstone National Park for Memorial -Weekend. The park was absolutely mesmerizing, with all the geysers and hot springs. Water was as blue and clear as the sky, bubbling as if ready to blow up from the thermal energy deep under the surface (although the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide could be very distracting sometimes). I saw bison for the first time. Many of them were just chilling in the open field, munching on grass and drinking water until food coma kicked in. Who would know that bison and I shared the same pleasure in eating and napping! I also witnessed a lone wolf striding across the open field, scouting a food source for its pack. Moose and elk casually enjoyed the sunny day along the river bank. The river enjoyed good flow from recent runoff events, and anglers came fishing quite a lot for the holiday.
Last weekend, Jack, Christina and I went on a bonding hiking trip around Phelp’s Lake on the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Trails of the Grand Teton National Park and a visit to the tourist town of Jackson, WY. We conquered around 7 miles of the hiking trail while enjoying the beautiful sceneries of the lake, the freshly blooming huckleberry flowers and tiny little morels along the trail. We visited Jackson and went souvenir shopping to cool off from the heat of the day, enjoyed a full burger dinner in a local restaurant, watched the traditional shootout in the central park, and ended a very happy day out with homemade ice-cream in waffle cones.
For the rest of my internship, the main project I will work on is to film and produce a short video clip on the beauty of the Henry’s Fork and its attraction for anglers from all around the world (we have seen anglers from Norway fishing in this river!). I am beyond excited to have the chance to record my wonderful experience here and share it with everyone who is interested to discover, come and fish in this area. I’ll keep a secret on the details of the video, so please anticipate my video this summer.
I sent my family and friends a lot of pictures of the ladder, water quality trip and my adventures, and almost all of them wondered if I am here in Ashton for an internship or for a vacation. All I can say is that I am definitely enjoying my work, contributing my effort towards nature conservation, while stepping out of my comfort zone, engaging in various fieldworks and enjoying the beauty of nature.