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Water Journeys Camp: Upstream, Downstream, and Everything In Between

Brushing your teeth, cooking pasta, taking a shower, gliding down a Slip ‘N Slide and trying to keep your succulents alive….All of these things have one thing in common: Water. And while many of us don’t think twice about where our tap water comes from or where it goes, a horde of kids from Water Journey Camps sought to find out more.

These two summer camps, that took place over two weeks were designed for kids who wanted to explore the Mississippi watershed while seeking answers to seemingly easy questions:

Where does our tap water come from?

Where does rain go after it hits the ground?

What can I do to make our waters healthy?



The first week started the first round of campers with their own personal cameras, Water Journey journals and decorated water bottles for interacting with the water. The beginning of their journey started at the water fountain in the Institute on the Environment, where they pooled together all the questions they had on where water comes from and where it goes. Throughout the week the campers followed the journey water takes, which meant visiting sites like the initial water intake on the Mississippi River, Sucker Lake which displayed many forms of aquatic life, the Water Treatment Plant which serves 40 million gallons of water for 500,000 people in the metro area, and finally going inside the water tower on campus!

On day three, campers took a boat tour down the Mississippi River past the waste water treatment plant with park ranger Brian Goodspeed. There the campers were able to visualize where the water’s journey ends, as well as learn about how to keep rivers clean. Campers found themselves in the Sarita Wetland on day four, which is an area on the St. Paul campus that helps the ground absorb and purify water, as well as provide habitat for wildlife. They got their hands dirty and planted native plants in the area.

water journeys sarita wetland native plants

One of our campers posing with a plant that will find itself in the Sarita Wetland. Photo Courtesy of Camper

The final day of Drink Week was used to reflect and map out all the places they visited. Water testing was done by the campers, which contained water samples from six different locations along the journey. Each of them also received a necklace with a vial containing river water from the beginning and end of their journey. The campers’ favorite photos and water testing results were displayed at the parent’s exhibit, which invited University of Minnesota faculty, staff, students, and visitors. 


To commence the week long water journey, campers gathered around a storm drain outside of the Institute on the Environment along Buford Avenue to pour water through the grates, not yet knowing where it will flow next. The weeklong journey started at the roof , following rain down the downspouts to the sidewalk and to the storm drain. To explore other places rain lands campers explored St. Paul campus including areas such as the Native American Medicine Garden, the Mycology Club site and the Display and Trial Gardens. Then campers followed rain from the storm drain to Sarita Wetland on campus, and to the overflow. Day three of Rain week led campers on a trip to the Mississippi Outfall where the campus overflow leads and further downstream to Crosby Farm Park to learn about the floodplains surrounding much of the Twin Cities and the effects that rising water has on the ecosystem, such as otters making dens out of Cottonwood tree roots.

Water Journeys camp storm drain am

The campers at the beginning of their water journey, by a storm drain. Photo courtesy of Jaraide Dossavi

Much like the title of this week, day four was full of rain. Unfortunately, campers were not able to visit Sarita Wetland to plant native species, but instead focused on water testing, playing a scientist’s role on the mission to find dissolved oxygen levels, pH and turbidity of water collected from rain’s journey to the Mississippi.

Finally, on day five of Rain week, campers planted a variety of plants at Sarita Wetland to help protect water quality: Great Blue Lobelia, Joe Pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, Showy Goldenrod and Bottlebrush Sage. Additionally, campers got to show off all their findings and art at an open house for parents, University staff and students.

If you want to learn more about the Water Journeys Camps there is a website with a daily blog, GIS story maps that show camper’s favorite photos and observations, an archive of the camper’s photos and artwork, and more information about the project. with the archives of the camper’s photos. We hope to see your involvement in the summer of 2018!


The project team at Institute on the Environment would like to thank the parents and campers and the many partners and collaborators that made this camp possible. Initial Funding for developing this project and implementing it in 2016 was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. This project is part of ongoing research and outreach at the Sustainability Education group at Institute on the Environment on art/design-led environmental education. More information about the model and this work can be found here.

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