Understanding and appreciating the Merced River

UC Merced scientist to hold Merced River Fair this weekend at Riverdance Farms

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comMay 27, 2013 

— The Merced River, to many residents, is an indelible feature of summer fun in the region — whether one is fishing under the saffron sun or floating in a raft from Snelling to Livingston.

For Thomas Harmon it's more than that. It's an indispensable natural resource that must be appreciated and protected for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

"We've kind of created a generation of people who may not go outdoors very much," said Harmon. "I like to see people connect with nature a little more. I think it's important to unplug."

Harmon and others will be doing quite a bit of unplugging Saturday at the ninth annual Pick and Gather and Merced River Fair event at Riverdance Farms.

For the past four years, Harmon, a University of California at Merced professor of engineering and scientist with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, has contributed to the annual festival by spearheading and organizing the Merced River Fair.

As an environmental engineer and associate dean of UC Merced's School of Engineering, Harmon's research and teaching focuses on observing and understanding water and pollutants in soil, groundwater and surface water. He also looks at how water and chemicals move through the environment, and how to use technology to study, measure and simulate those movements.

At Saturday's event, Harmon will bring his classroom to the outdoors, demonstrating the importance of the river and wetlands to the public. During the event, Harmon will have microscopes on hand for kids to look at fairy shrimp. He'll also demonstrate the scientific instruments scientists use to monitor the river and snowpack levels.

The family-friendly Merced River Fair will include geocache treasure hunts, where participants use a GPS device to find hidden educational items. There also will be science and engineering exhibits.

Harmon said his goal is to convey a message highlighting the importance of protecting resources such as the river and its natural habitat, which thousands of species call home.

He said the event is an opportunity for families to enjoy quality time on a farm and engage in learning opportunities.

"You've gotta get ready for that next generation," Harmon emphasized. "I just want them to get out there and see some of these resources, and be able to relax and enjoy some of the scenery."

Cindy Lashbrook, owner of Riverdance Farms, said Harmon has played a crucial role in keeping the annual festival going because the event depends on donations and volunteers such as him.

Lashbrook said the knowledge Harmon instills in young people and the public about the environment is invaluable. "He does this basically on his own time," he said.

Harmon is one of UC Merced's founding faculty, working at the university since 2003.

The festival will include organic blueberries and cherries for families to pick, hay rides, farm and garden activities for kids, food, artwork, an American Indian powwow, three stages with live entertainment, hayrides and farm tours.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

WHAT: Pick and Gather at Riverdance Farms and Merced River Fair

WHERE: Riverdance Farms, 12230 Livingston Cressey Road, Livingston

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

PRICE: $10 adults; $5 for children and senior citizens

WEB: www.riverdancefarms.com.

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