The Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Aquatic Education Program honored Karen Phelps, Benton County Conservation Board naturalist, as the 2012 recipient of the Brass Bluegill award.
The Brass Bluegill award is given annually to an individual for their efforts in helping Iowa’s youth become skilled anglers and advocates of fishing and natural resources conservation.
Phelps has been involved in the Fish Iowa! program for 10 years. She has established a local program reaching more than 1,000 elementary through high school students each year.
“I teach Fish Iowa! because as a child I learned life skills from my parents while fishing. Patience was at the top of that list. It is a fun activity that doesn’t involve a lot of cost, and it can provide hours of entertainment,” she said.
Phelps uses Fish Iowa! with adults as well.
“To see the joy on a child’s face when they catch their first fish or to see grandparents glow with pride when they take their grandchild fishing – it’s all worth it,” she said.
Phelps partners with the DNR, neighboring county conservation boards and a host of local conservation and education groups to connect children with the outdoors. In addition to teaching Fish Iowa!, she teaches canoeing, kayaking, IOWATER (water quality) testing, archery, and hunter education.
Overall, Phelps conducts conservation education programs for more than 12,000 participants each year; as many as 1,300 students visit the Benton County Conservation Nature Center in one month during the field trip season.
She also trains other educators to use conservation education materials like Fish Iowa!, Greenschools, and Project WILD, WILD Aquatic, and Learning Tree.
Phelps was presented with her award at the March 8 Natural Resources Commission meeting in Des Moines. As part of the award, Benton County Conservation Board received a set of 24 fishing rod and reels and carrying racks from the Aquatic Education Program.
Fish Iowa! strives to create safe anglers and responsible stewards of Iowa’s aquatic resources. Fish Iowa! is supported by Sportfish Restoration Funds, which are obtained from excise taxes paid on fishing tackle and related items and fishing license dollars.