Future conservationists get their feet wet 

RappFLOW program puts 200 students in close contact with local watershed

On the banks of the Thornton River in Sperryville last Thursday (Sept. 26), more than 200 young people were brought together by Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed (RappFLOW) for hands-on learning about water resources and watersheds in Rappahannock County.

RappFLOW founder Beverly Hunter interprets one of her watershed maps for students.
RappFLOW founder Beverly Hunter interprets one of her watershed maps for students. Photos by Daphne Hutchinson.

Judging by the weather, the event had Mother Nature’s blessing. Sunny skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s created the perfect outdoor classroom as students moved from station to station, listening to volunteer teachers show and tell about the threats to water resources and strategies for protecting streams and aquifers.

Organizers Carolyn Thornton and Donna Marquisee assembled experts who made compelling talks and demonstrations for teens on such topics as rain gardens, stream buffers, indicator species, wood turtles, forest cover, pH balance and watershed maps. The instructors came from the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), Virginia Department of Forestry, the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute and Old Rag Master Naturalists. The presenters also included RappFLOW founder Beverly Hunter and her watershed maps; Ben Estes and Nathan Smith, Rappahannock County High School students who are interns with RappFLOW; and Cliff Miller, whose Mount Vernon Farm is a model for sustainable agriculture and watershed protection. They brought along their passion as well as their knowledge and put both to use in answering the two big questions: “Why should we care?” and “What can we do to make a difference?”

Excitement was highest around the demonstration table where dipping nets were emptied and macroinvertebrates examined in detail.
Excitement was highest around the demonstration table where dipping nets were emptied and macroinvertebrates examined in detail.

“They already know so much! It’s great!” pronounced Marquisee after she’d eavesdropped her away around the stations, listening to the interaction between the presenters and students from Rappahannock County’s elementary and high schools, Hearthstone School, Belle Meade School, Wakefield Country Day School and home-school programs.

The excitement was highest around the table where the dipping nets were emptied, especially during the morning session for sixth graders.

“Oh, I see a stone fly!”

“Yes!”

“Here’s a madtom!”

“Wow! And a water penny. They’re everywhere! “

“I love this! I was born on the river,” responded the enthusiastic young man who had correctly identified every macroinvertebrate scooped from the creek for study.

PEC’s Rappahannock representative Don Loock takes students through a model that helps explain the flow of water across and under the landscape.
PEC’s Rappahannock representative Don Loock takes students through a model that helps explain the flow of water across and under the landscape.

The event did more than strengthen the community consensus on protecting and preserving the county’s water resources in the next generation of Rappahannock’s conservationists. It also tightened their community connections as public schoolers, private schoolers and home schoolers mixed and mingled in the outdoor classroom.

Maybe best of all was the verdict from both the morning group of sixth-graders and the afternoon group of seventh- through 12th-graders. After testing water samples and studying indicator species, they concluded: “Good news. This is a pretty clean stream.” Thanks to RappFLOW, they also now know how to help keep the county’s waterways in that happy state.

To learn more about RappFLOW or to join this nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the county’s water resources, visit rappflow.org.

 

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