Jefferson Elementary students show off signs made in order to help people pick up after their pets next to a DogiPot at Cherry Creek Wednesday. Pictured are Jefferson Elementary students and teachers, members of The Watershed Foundation, Town Manager Craig Allebach and Winona Lake Town Council President Rick Swaim. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Jefferson Elementary students show off signs made in order to help people pick up after their pets next to a DogiPot at Cherry Creek Wednesday. Pictured are Jefferson Elementary students and teachers, members of The Watershed Foundation, Town Manager Craig Allebach and Winona Lake Town Council President Rick Swaim. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.

WINONA LAKE – Jefferson Elementary students and teachers, along with members of The Watershed Foundation and the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), talked Wednesday about testing they did on the E. coli levels in Cherry Creek and a project students worked on to fix it.

The signs, along with pamphlets that were made, and the DogiPot stations were the result of a project fourth- and sixth-grade students did in regards to E. coli in Cherry Creek.

In January, Darci Zolman, Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), informed Jefferson Elementary School that Lyn Crighton, executive director of The Watershed Foundation (TWF), had recently done some water testing during the annual Snapshot Water Monitor Day and concluded that the levels of E. coli in Cherry Creek were TNTC (Too Numerous To Count), according to a news release about the project.

Zolman said the Snapshot Day was their first “ah-ha moment” of the elevated E. coli levels.

SWCD brings students to Cherry Creek twice a year to  do water testing and monitoring. Zolman said SWCD did some extra programing on E. coli to give students more background information and to kickstart a program of the students collecting data on the issue.

Jefferson students studied various ways to monitor water quality with Zolman.

Sandy McClellan, sixth-grade teacher at Jefferson, said fourth- and sixth-grade students collected data on Cherry Creek.

Jefferson student Moses Hackemberk said Jefferson students had little trips to the creek and thinks it was mostly then when they realized the creek had a bunch of E. coli in it.

“What we found was that the E. coli that was 100 (cfu/100ml) last year became too numerous to count (this year),” she said. What that meant was it was really above safety levels.

One of the reasons for this, McClellan said, was people weren’t picking up after their dogs and the rain washes it into Cherry Creek.

“We kind of figured out the dog waste and pet waste that was getting into (the creek), so thought if we could clean up (the creek) and encourage people to pick it up, it would be easier for them to do that with stations right there,” Hackemberk said.

McClellan said students were able present their information to the Winona Lake Town Council.

During May’s Council meeting, Jefferson Elementary School sixth-graders Savannah Purdy and Jocelyn Luecke asked  for help in eliminating E.coli from Cherry Creek. The children asked the Council to help them educate people who come by Cherry Creek about the need to pick up after their pets.

Purdy said the Council was pretty supportive of the students’ project.

After May’s meeting, Town Manager Craig Allebach said town representatives met with students and teachers and Jefferson and members of TWF.

“And we decided to purchase two DogiPots, one for each side of the creek,” Allebach said during June’s Council meeting. “And Watershed has agreed to purchase those.”

Upon presenting data from TWF and facts students discovered with  Allebach and the Council, “a collaboration was born. Out of this new found partnership with Jefferson Elementary and the Winona Lake Town Council has now come two pet waste stations located at Cherry Creek (funded by TWF), signs posted nearby to remind people of ways to care for our local land and water, and brochures alongside to educate the community of the purpose for why we should Make Haste, Not Waste,” stated the press release.

Zolman said SWCD has always felt that “teaching our youth is a way to make them more informed citizens when they grow up and hopefully, they stick around in the community.” She said the project the students participated in was a great way to help those students become more informed students.

“With this new partnership, Jefferson Elementary, Kosciusko SWCD, The Watershed Foundation, and the Winona Lake Town Council greatly expect to continue Jefferson’s vision, which is to inspire students to be change makers in their school and world," stated the release.

For more information, visit the website www.indiana.clearchoicescleanwater.org/pledges/pet-poo.