year, Cacapon Institute’s Stream Scholars Summer Camp was a mixture
of exciting new experiences, a great group of returning and new
campers, and a hopeful look at the future of our streams.
Scholars is CI's hands-on exploration of stream ecology and
conservation for middle and high school students. As in past years,
the camp was held on Skagg’s Run, a tributary of the
North River. The Scholars performed habitat assessments,
chemical analysis using field and laboratory equipment, used benthic macroinvertebrates to assess
stream health, and conducted physical
surveys of the study streams.
Craddock, WVDEP’s Citizens Monitoring Coordinator, joined us again this year
to help with the stream assessments. Last year we were all
stunned to see that our study stream was in trouble. Over the
past several years, the spaces between the gravel and cobble on the
stream bottom that used to provide habitat have become filled with
sand and silt. There was simply no room for many of the kinds
of organisms that had lived there in previous years. This year was
better. While far from perfect, there was less sand and silt
on the stream bottom, and the diversity of organisms was much
higher. There is hope!
This year, on Day 3 we took a long hike into the woods to assess a
tiny tributary of Skaggs Run. Although in a totally forested
area, this stream is impacted by changes in the watershed area above
it and is eroding badly. It is also impacted by the effects of
excessive deer browse on forest vegetation. Despite these
problems, the stream actually had decent diversity of aquatic
organisms, especially for a headwater stream. However, the
habitat scores reflected the degraded nature of the stretch and were
much less than optimal.
Alana Hartman, WVDEP’s
Potomac Basin Coordinator, stopped by to help with the assessments.
We again had the opportunity to see the other end of the
watershed with a trip down to the Chesapeake Bay on the last two
days. We spent the
first day at the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake
Biological Laboratory at Solomon’s Island. The trip was
highlighted by a cruise on the 65 foot long R/V Aquarius (one of the
University's research vessels). In an action-packed two hours,
the campers tried just about everything. They deploying a
high-tech instrument pack that collects water samples every second
as it descends to the bottom of the Bay, and watched the results of
its voyage instantaneously on a computer screen. They also
used the simplest of devices for measuring water clarity - a secchi
disk. They sifted through muddy samples brought up in a bottom
dredge, and sorted through the oyster bar rubble brought up by an
oyster dredge. They hauled in an otter seine full of fish and
tried not to get pinched by the blue crabs and stung by the stinging
jellyfish in the net. It was a remarkably busy two hours, but
they weren't done yet. When they returned to the Laboratory,
they headed out to the research pier to sift through the proceeds in
several crab-pots and then returned to the classroom to dissect
oysters they had caught on the boat. Quite a day.
We camped at
Point Lookout that evening, at the confluence of the Potomac River
and the Chesapeake Bay. We had a wonderful dinner put together
by the campers, and spent the next morning exploring Point Lookout
State Park before the long drive back to West Virginia.
fitting to end our week on the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay is afflicted
by the same pollutants that we saw in Skaggs Run, nutrients and
sediment, and some of those pollutants in the Bay probably
originated in our study stream’s watershed. As we work to protect
streams in our own backyard, we’ll also help to cleanup the Bay.
Scholars Summer Camp was supported by The MARPAT Foundation, the
Spring Creek Foundation, the WV Department of Environmental
Protection, the WV Conservation Agency (and through them the
Chesapeake Bay Program), Mahew Chevrolet (Romney, WV), and the
members of Cacapon Institute. All of these sources of funding
allow us to keep our application fees for campers low so the camp is
open to all.