SYRACUSE — Teresa Anderson's fourth-grade class spent Wednesday morning on Antelope Island playing in the water and learning about the Great Salt Lake.
"They like digging in the sand, getting in the water, and they learn a lot," said Anderson, a teacher at Buffalo Point Elementary. "I don't know that they would say that's their favorite thing, but it really gives them a lot of knowledge and connects to the curriculum that we have in science."
All Buffalo Point fourth-graders visited the state park either Tuesday or Wednesday to learn about the Great Salt Lake, its rich plant life and the animals that depend on it.
"When we bring kids out here, they get to know it a little bit better," said Andrea Nelson, education and outreach director for Friends of Great Salt Lake. "We hope that their generation will not only know the lake but make good decisions regarding water use and development … related to the lake."
Since 1994, the nonprofit Friends of Great Salt Lake has been working to increase public awareness and appreciation of the lake.
"I feel like the Great Salt Lake is sort of a forgotten treasure here in Utah," Nelson said. "A lot of people visit from other countries, but we don't know what's right here in our own backyard."
The organization offers $150 grants to public schools to cover park and entrance fees and encourage class visits to Antelope Island. The field trips have been operating through donations since 2000.
"It started out only reaching 100 or 200 kids a year," Nelson said of the Lakeside Learning program. "Right now, we're up to about 1,800 or 2,000 kids (per year)."
Nelson said the Lakeside Learning program offers students a hands-on introduction to the Great Salt Lake.
"We talk about birds and wetlands and watershed and the general ideas of Great Salt Lake," she said.
During their visit, students are able to taste pickleweed, which gets its name from its salty taste and small-pickle appearance. They also learn about geology by finding banded gneiss, rocks with pinkish lines.
The field trips end on the beach of the Great Salt Lake, where students learn about brine shrimp and oolitic sand — basically brine shrimp fecal matter with a calcium carbonate shell.
Finally, they get to play in the lake. For most students, it's their favorite part of the trip, Nelson said.
"Hands down, the kids love getting wet," she said. "I have to keep them from getting completely salty, but even if they do, they have a ton of fun."
Nelson, who earned a master's degree in environmental humanities at the University of Utah, said she realized that she really liked education and found that teaching kids about the environment was the first step to helping people make good decisions about the environment.
Friends of Great Salt Lake is holding its annual fundraiser Oct. 25 at Chase Mill at Tracy Aviary, 589 E. 1300 South. Entrance is $35 per person.
"They can buy a ticket and come and join the party, help fundraise and enjoy each other's company," Nelson said.