Students wade into Flowing Spring study

RANSON – For the second year, students at Wildwood Middle School will be engaged in intensive field work studying the health of Flowing Spring, just outside of Ranson, in a project dubbed exSTREAM Makover.

Carolyn Thomas, a science teacher at Wildwood, was able to obtain a $10,000 grant from the Dominion Educational Partnership to fund this year’s project, which will study the differences between Flowing Spring and Beaver Creek in Washington County, Md.

Doug Hutzell, a stream restoration engineer with Frederick, Seibert and Associates, helped to teach students from Carolyn Thomas’ Wildwood Middle School class the science behind measuring stream healt.

Thomas said Beaver Creek makes for a good contrast with the Jefferson County stream because brook trout — the state fish of West Virginia — are able to reproduce there.“They are the Appalachians’ only native trout and increasingly it is considered an indicator species for cold, clean water,” Thomas said. “Brook trout lived here historically, and they don’t now. So the question becomes: Why not? [Students] will ask what it would take to get this one to look like Beaver Creek. What would we have to do to make that work?”

Several scientific specialists are working with the class to help them learn the science, engineering and surveying techniques necessary to measure the health of the stream and to determine what is needed to restore the stream to health. The class will be working closely with Doug Hutzell, a stream restoration engineer with Frederick, Seibert and Associates who engineered the removal of dams and habitat restoration on Beaver Creek.

The students are learning the advanced surveying techniques necessary to plot the shape and course of the stream as well as examining its habitat and health.

“We’re doing a long survey that shows them the different elevations in the stream,” Hutzell said. “They can take that back to the classroom and plot it. We’re also doing a cross-section of the stream. We’re also looking at the substrate – the material that makes up the bottom of the channel.”

Determining whether brook trout can survive in the stream will be a complex process, because they are so sensitive to minor changes in temperature and can even be completely wiped out by sediment levels that are too high, Hutzell said.

“It’s not just engineering. It’s fisheries. It’s geomorphology. You have to have the cooperation of several disciplines that come in and work on stream restoration to make it work. [The students are] using the actual tools that engineers use.”

Thomas said projects like this one help students grasp and retain classroom lessons better and give them a leg up if they choose to pursue a career in science, technology or engineering.

“Increasingly in science education we want students to see the application of classroom studies to real-world situations,” she said. “We can talk about streams, and then we can go out and actually evaluate a stream.”

Student Taylor Gonzalez took part in last year’s stream project. She said she enjoyed working with the scientists.

“It is pushing me more toward science,” Gonzalez said. “When I was younger I actually didn’t like science very much, but as I am getting older and being able to do things like this I do find it more interesting. I like learning hands-on rather than sitting in a classroom and reading about it.”

Student Tyrese Niblack said he was fascinated with learning to use the surveying equipment.

“It’s really fun to be out here,” Niblack said. “We get to learn a lot of stuff. It’s easier to do it physically. I just think it’s really fun.”

Dale Foster said he enjoys both and astronomy and earth sciences, said the project is teaching him to care for the environment.

“It is always important to help our community and help the ecosystem around us,” Foster said. “We have put a big impact on our planet as humans, and I think it is time to start changing it back to how it was before.”

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