In his book, “The Life and Death of the Great Lakes,” author Dan Egan notes: “The twelve year-old, you see, is perhaps the best hope the lakes have to recover from two centuries of over-fishing, over-polluting and over prioritizing navigation; almost every person I’ve ever talked to who cares anything about the lakes and the rivers that feed them does so because they have a childhood story about catching the fish that swim in them.”
Geneva Lake is a midwestern gem in the treasure chest of our nation. It is rich with the history of generations of people since the 1800s who chose it as either a place to call home, or a vacation destination. The pristine water, robust animal and aquatic wildlife, and tree-lined shores provide a spectacular setting for all ages.
Opportunities for enjoying Geneva Lake at any age abound. These experiences often include swimming, boating, fishing, sailing, or simply hiking the lake path. While all of these activities promote an appreciation of the aquatic ecosystem of Geneva Lake, it is fishing that often provides an introduction to the lake for even the youngest children.
Most people have a childhood memory or perhaps a memory of their own children or grandchildren, fishing for the first time. The trepidation of small feet walking out onto a pier, the disgust and fascination of putting a worm on a hook, the silent wait for a nibble, and finally, the exuberant feeling of reeling in the line to see smooth shiny scales and flapping fins. Many would agree the success of a child’s fishing endeavor is measured by the size of the smile on the child’s face, rather than the size of the catch itself.
Once a child learns to fish on their own, from baiting the hook, casting, reeling in the fish and removing the fish from the hook and line, that child’s confidence grows with each successful catch. This self-esteem translates to many other areas, including schoolwork, athletics and even social and emotional development.
In addition to teaching patience, fishing also educates children with an important survival skill, shows them where food comes from, and arguably most important, instills in them a love of the outdoors. This fondness for the outdoors will likely encourage a love of nature and curiosity about the natural world as the child matures.
We need to teach our children a love of the lake, nature and the natural world of Walworth County, as they will be the caretakers after we are gone. Without both an appreciation and knowledge of the natural world, they cannot be good stewards. If you try to picture Geneva Lake in 2070, will it be a lake that is choked by green algae and unsafe for recreation on many summer days or a sparkling blue lake (as it is now) that is being cared for by the next generation?
As members of the Water Alliance for Preserving Geneva Lake, my committee members and I recognize that we may do all we can to preserve and protect the lake today, but unless the next generation carries this stewardship work forward, our work will have been in vain.
While there are various locations to fish and learn about the natural world in the Lake Geneva area, the Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park, established in June of 2018, offers a fishing experience to Lake Geneva’s youngest residents and visitors. The park features a trout fishing area, worm digging bed, nature trail, natural playground, amphibian pond and butterfly garden.
Fishing and nature classes, as well as story times, are offered. While they were cancelled because of the pandemic this year, they are planned again for summer of 2021.
The park was created by longtime Lake Geneva resident Jack Rohner, to honor his late wife, Helen, and her love for children. In addition to teaching children to fish, the Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park also encourages them to explore the wonders of nature and to learn about the importance of clean air and water.
Hopefully, their fun childhood fishing experience will translate into a sense of future responsibility to conserve and protect Geneva Lake, which is the home of the brown trout they catch.
“Keeping It Blue” is written by Water Alliance for Preserving Geneva Lake members to inform and educate the public about water quality and other issues impacting Geneva Lake and how the public can help to address them. Comments and questions can be sent to email@example.com.
Kate Holland is a member of the Water Alliance for Preserving Geneva Lake and a board member of the Geneva Lake Conservancy.
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