Karoline Evin McMullen found out about an ancient, dwindling native brook trout population, a species that once thrived in most Ohio streams. Brookies are the community's local treasure; they have lived there for thousands of years. She enlisted friends to help and discovered that brookie habitat was being lost because of actions of residents and development.
McMullen and her classmates undertook scientific research, and the underlying problem became clear: lack of community involvement and understanding. Almost everyone she spoke with did not even realize brookies were a part of the community. During the past five years, SOS has organized tree planting days, spoken at conferences and schools, helped run a trout hatchery, monitored streams, campaigned door-to-door; and has garnered over $35,000 in grants and awards.
McMullen has taken on a leadership role in all SOS activities during the past five years. She wrote a book and is distributing it to elementary school students around the country, spoke in favor new legislation and designed educational signs for parks. The population is rebounding in certain streams. Preserving habitat will benefit all community members by reducing flooding and safeguarding wells.
SOS uses student and community education and partnerships as tools to bring back the brook trout population, and restore the original cold water habitat. SOS is working with the Geauga Park District, Geauga Soil and Water District, Chagrin River Watershed Partners, Chagrin River Land Conservancy, numerous high schools, Ohio EPA, area townships and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and other organizations to educate the 125,000 residents of the Chagrin River watershed. SOS also has students from local schools listening to presentations, handing out fliers, gluing storm grate stickers, etc. as part of their community service hours. McMullen speaks at various meetings; the Ohio EPA, township meetings, science teacher training seminars and the Museum of Natural History's Trout Club.
One effective tool for education is working with townships on their NPDES Phase II compliance. SOS glued decals that said "No Dumping, Drains to Stream" on storm grates in many communities, as well as distributed information. Finding ways to help townships fulfill regulatory obligations, while also helping the brookies, has made for easy partnerships. McMullen along with one other student, applied for and received a grant from Ohio EPA to produce signs in a park and educate naturalists so they can give tours to school children in the watershed where brook trout live, using materials purchased with grant money.
McMullen’s latest project is to give tanks of trout eggs to classrooms. These classrooms study and hatch the eggs over the winter, and release them in the spring. These close-to-home lessons are effective service-learning opportunities, which appear to have made lasting impressions on all of the students who participate.