Stream Scholars 2003

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The side of stream scholars you usually see.Supported the USEPA's Environmental Education Grant Program, The MARPAT Foundation, and the members of Cacapon Institute, Stream Scholars 2003 was a hands-on exploration of stream ecology and conservation for 7th to 9th grade students.  The Stream Scholars Summer Camp had three main goals: 

bulletpromote environmental leaders who can make informed contributions to the community discussion on watershed conservation issues.
bulletincrease college enrollment in West Virginia by recruiting students who show academic motivation and promise. 
bulletincrease student interest in environmental careers. 

 Of course, it also has to be both intellectually engaging and fun.  The first three-day, non-residential, summer camp was hosted In August 2003 by Cacapon Institute at the Gillies farm near Baker. The site we chose was central to the participating student's from Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties and thus minimized their drive times. It also provided ready access to an ideal pair of watersheds for the program - similar in size, topography, and geology, but with enough difference in land-use for discernable differences in stream health to appear. Also, this pair of watersheds has generated a large body of water-quality information through long-term monitoring programs; this enabled us to fill in the blanks when weather made getting the information first-hand impossible.

Stream Scholars succeeded in playing to one of the primary strengths of Cacapon Institute, namely the depth and relevance of its water science expertise.  In an area and at a grade-level where science teachers are called on to be a jack-of-all-trades, Stream Scholars gave motivated students a chance to carry out hands-on investigations with instructors schooled in the subject matter.  This in-house expertise also allowed us to adjust the

Day 1 began with discussions around two questionsHow does water flow through a watershed?" - where students discussed the movement of water in our landscape, and "What are the parts of a watershed and how do they serve each other?" - where students built a conceptual "ecological" model of a watershed. John and Justin run titration for alkalinity. One reason for starting like this was to make sure that all nine of our stream scholars had a common understanding of some key elements of watershed science and how they related to each other.  Another reason was to give us time to adjust the schedule after torrential rains left Skaggs Run, our subject stream, too high to safely work in.  

Adjust we did and, staying out of the raging waters, we went on to run a suite of chemical analyses that included phosphate, alkalinity, pH, and temperature.  Physical analyses included a review of bank and buffer zone condition, and a quantitative survey of land use using aerial photos of the watershed and a dot grid.  To make the exercises as relevant to the real-world as possible we used data sheets and followed the instructions from the West Virginia DEP Level II stream monitoring protocol. 


John and Justin catching bugs. On Day 2 the water had finally receded far enough that we could work in the stream.  We inventoried the stream's benthic macroinvertebrates,…or at least those that were smart enough to seek good cover after the previousTeam B sorting.  Takes concentration. day's high water.  As living stream inhabitants, the abundance and species distribution of these critters can provide clues about stream water quality in the recent past.  And besides that, looking closely at them is terribly fun.  


John measures stream flow.

To further complete the puzzle, we calculated the cross-sectional area of Skagg's Run and measured the velocity of the water.  To make things interesting, we did it two different ways.  The high tech method used an expensive electronic flow probe with a propeller, tiny computer, and instant averaging functions.  The other method, somewhat lower tech, used a stick, tape measure and a stopwatch.  The campers discovered that the low tech approach can work just fine if done with care.  These measurements allowed us to estimate flow of Skagg's Run in cubic feet per minute, and with this, the amount of phosphate and nitrate, or the "load" of each of these that the stream was carrying to points downstream. 


Stream Scholars with the raging North River in the background.A quick 2 inches of rain the evening of Day 2 turned our study streams into raging torrents once again and when Day 3 dawned saw the North River was raging river.  With some fancy footwork and quick research, we were able to provide the campers with realistic data from past monitoring of the North River.  This let them stay safe and allowed them to avoid having to disentangle the confounding effects of heavy rain from their results.  WeGnats could be a pain in the .... were able to drive to the adjacent North River and conduct many of the assessments of the stream bank and buffer zone.  We also did a circuit drive of the North River and Skaggs Run headlands so that the campers had a chance to relate what was going on downstream to land use upstream. 

 The grand finale came when the campers put on presentations in front of their parents and our invited guest, USDA-NRCS District Conservationist Ed Keseker.  They were in two teams and each team had to address the following questions:

  1. How are Skagg's Run and the North River the same?

  2. How are Skagg's Run and the North River different?

  3. How do you explain the differences?

  4. What would you do to improve watershed functioning on Skagg's Run and the North River?

Team B dazzles us with their insights.  In our case, Skaggs Run  had slightly elevated levels of nitrate-nitrogen and more sediment when compared with the North River. Being adjacent watersheds and thus sharing many important characteristics like climate, and geology, the campers were able to zero in more quickly on land use factors that might explain differences in results.  This allowed for a discussion on the possible impacts of agriculture taking place to a greater extent in Skaggs Run.  We were also able to discuss interesting things like why elevated phosphorus, also associated with agriculture, was not present in our samples--phosphorus is more quickly bound up by soil particles and therefore shows up less quickly in water samples. Ed hands out certificates.


To conclude, Mr. Keseker handed out certificates of participation to our first group of Stream Scholars and we disbanded amongst optimistic talk of next year's program, an advanced course, internships, and general expansion.     

 Support for this program comes from the US EPA, the MARPAT Foundation, Cacapon Institute  members, and Partner Schools

Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
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Frank Rodgers,  Executive Director

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