OSCEOLA COUNTY — Classrooms in Reed City and Evart Middle Schools have been busy in recent months raising salmon from “eggs” to release size in a project sponsored by Ice Mountain. Plans are in the making now to add Big Rapids Middle School to the special project next school year, and still others as time goes on.

According to the two classroom teachers now involved, Brad Smith of Reed City and Jim Cahtel at Evart, the project is not only fascinating, but “fantastic.”

It not only adds a new way to teach science, but puts into action record keeping, testing, and preparing for the time when the fish can actually be released.

Lenny Vaughn of Big Rapids and Tom Tavis of Hersey, are both employees of Ice Mountain and avid fishermen. They read about a program called “Trout in the Classroom” out in Maine, and Lenny said he thought it sounded like a good thing.

The two shared ideas, thought Nestle Ice Mountain would be supportive of it, and approached plant manager Scott Goward about it. He thought the company would be willing to put some money toward it, and Tavis and Vaughn’s idea of doing salmon rather than trout sounded good. “We were salivating by that time,” Vaughn said, “because we figured these would be great fish raised in this manner.”

The investment by Ice Mountain was close to $2,000 for the special equipment needed, along with providing youngsters with field trips to Ruby Creek where they could see the large salmon.

Reed City teacher Brad Smith said applications were filed in April 2010, and had to be approved. He and Cahtel were approved, and traveled to Wolf Lake Hatchery at Kalamazoo for a day-long seminar, then Tavis and Vaughn went down to bring the eggs back.

That was in early November, and by Christmas “they were like tadpoles with a sac attached to their bellies,” Tavis said. “They feed off that sac. They’re three to five inches long by May. These (the ones recently released) are just about ready to smolt, which means their scales have become mature.

“This is all inbred right into them, and after they smolt, these fish wait until a very dark or cloudy night, then go enter Lake Michigan.

“They are predators and feed there until they are four years old. Lenny and I caught a tag salmon planted at Alpena, it went all the way to Ludington, and the fourth year they go back to the river where they were let from, and we caught it at Alpena.”

He added that three DNR biologists accompanied them to the riverbank with the students, and they could see them spawn, laying eggs and the males came in and laid a trail like smoke.

He noted that funding wasn’t available this year for Reed City students to go for the release, but plans are to request grant money next year so they will be able to in the future. Tavis said Nestle has an amount of money to spend on education, and the program will continue to add schools to the mix.

Both schools spoke highly of the program, saying it put life into the science classes, and they hope it continues.

As they discussed the program, it was noted that Wolf Lake’s hatches were selected the first year, because there is a low mortality rate. However, the eggs received this time came from the Manistee weir, and “there’s a gamble of losing more. Because of that, the choice becomes 200 eggs at Wolf Lake or 300 from the weir.”

Once the four-year old salmon return to the river where they were planted and spawn, they have completed their life cycle and die,” Vaughn said. “But this whole project is very exciting to the community, to the schools, and certainly to Ice Mountain. In fact, Evart even has a webcam set up so you can watch them grow and swim and the kids caring for them. Should check it in November. It’s really something.”