Last August, a group of about a half dozen conservation and education-minded groups from the lakes area joined forces to host the first Detroit Lakes Aqua Chatauqua at Dunton Locks County Park. The water-themed festival returns to Dunton Locks Thursday, Aug. 15, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Volunteers from the University of Minnesota Extension Water Resources Center, Pelican River Watershed District, Becker County Museum, Becker County 4-H, Becker County Environmental Services, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Becker and East Otter Tail County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Detroit Lakes Public Library and Becker County Sheriff's Department Dive & Rescue Team will be hosting 22 different fun and educational learning stations during the event.

"It's all about water — all aspects of water," said UM Extension educator Karen Terry, from science and technology to its history and all the different recreational activities that take place on the water. "This year our focus will once again be on the Otter Tail River Watershed."

Some of the more unique learning stations include a "tailgate aquarium" provided by the DNR, which includes live fish; an art activity hosted by Becker County 4-H that focuses on learning how to create "gyotaku," a form of Japanese art that involves the use of either real or rubber fish; and a history exhibit from the Becker County Museum that focuses on "Fishin' Memories."

Other activities include learning about shoreland restoration and protection as well as how to use tools for measuring water clarity; identifying various types of macroinvertebrates (i.e., water bugs) and aquatic invasive species (AIS); and a demonstration by the 4-H Aquatic Robotics team from Big Stone County, who were also at last year's festival, teaching attendees about how they build and use small robots for use underwater, to map out the locations and infestation levels of various types of AIS in local water bodies.

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"Some of our stations were here last year, and some are entirely new," Terry said.

In addition to all the different learning stations, local musician Rhoda Habedank will be performing "songs about rivers, lakes and wisdom from Sigurd Olsen, a man who worked to preserve the need to be careful with our water," and will help the participants to write a song "to give voice to the need to be careful with our water."

Two different food trucks, Wood Fire Pizza and the DL Ice Cream Truck, will be selling concessions throughout the evening, and attendees can register to win prizes including a brand-new kayak, kids' fishing poles and more water-themed items, free of charge.

In fact, aside from the food, everything at the festival is being offered free of charge. You can even go to the Voyageur Lanes bowling alley parking lot on West Lake Drive and check out one of the 40-plus bikes that are being donated for the event, then ride the bike down to Dunton Locks and back. The bikes will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

"You'll need to have ID to check out the bikes," Terry said, though one person with identification can check out bikes for the whole family. "And those who ride the bikes to Dunton Locks will get a coupon for a free treat from the ice cream truck."

For those who are unable to make use of the bikes, or prefer to drive, there will be parking at both the county park and the adjacent DNR Fisheries site, though on-site parking is still limited, which is why they are once again encouraging people to hike or bike into the park.

Terry said that the name "chatauqua" is rooted in America's pioneer days, when assemblies known as chatauquas were held in locations throughout the country, on topics ranging from scientific discoveries of the day to politics and religion.

"We're leaving politics and religion out of this one," Terry said.

The first Aqua Chatauqua hosted by the UM Water Resources Center was held in Fergus Falls back in 2017; last year, chatauqua events were held in both Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes; and this year, the event will be held in Detroit Lakes only.

For more information, check out the Detroit Lakes Aqua Chautauqua Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/2192986590992493 or email aquachatauqua@umn.edu.