Carroll students get their hands dirty competing in Envirothon

While occasional flakes of snow drifted over the fields near Bear Branch Nature Center in Westminster, local high school students clambered into a pit in the ground carrying instruments, tape measures and gloves.

There, next to the shear wall of the pit, they could test the texture and composition of the soil and view its layers as it moved from the deep brown of topsoil to the orangy, iron-rich layers below.


The pit was one of five stations set up around Bear Branch for the annual Envirothon, which gathered eight teams of high school students from Carroll schools and Venturing Crew 202, a Boy Scouts of America group based in Carroll.

They competed to show their knowledge in five areas: soils, aquatics, forestry, wildlife and, this year, Western Rangeland Management. The event was established in 1992 with the support of the Carroll Soil Conservation District.


The project, planting a native garden on the hill leading up to the tennis courts behind the school, was funded by a $5,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and another nearly $5,000 matching funding from other organizations, Hannah McNett, a science teacher at Manchester Valley, said.

Bryan Snyder, sediment control planner with the Carroll Soil Conservation District, was overseeing the soil station Tuesday morning. The location of the pit changes each year, he said, to challenge students who return for the competition year after year.

The tests they do focus on land-use and practical knowledge rather than terminology.

"Most people don't really care about the name. What is this soil good for? What is it not good for?" Snyder said.

The team from Winters Mill finished up their soil test and prepared to go back inside from the cold. Several of the four plan to go into fields after graduation where skills like the ones they practice at Envirothon will be useful.

Garret Waite, said he is looking into geological engineering. The experience of interacting with the soil and water will, he hopes, serve as a strong foundation even as he moves into more specialized studies.

All enjoyed their extracurricular time preparing for the Envirothon, though they worry that it might be hard to replace graduating members in coming years.

"This is a dying breed of people," said Kolton DeGasperi.

The teams practiced in the weeks leading up to the competition, some dusting off soil conservation skills they had learned in semesters past or rehearsing the techniques for measuring the circumference of a tree trunk.

Though many of the students in the school groups have taken related courses, the Envirothon teams are an extracurricular activity.

The challenge can be finding time to schedule practice around all the other activities that students are involved in, not to mention snow days, Kimberly Moyer, adviser for the Century High School team, said.

Battle of the Books turns book trivia into a four-round team sport with hundreds of spectators at events that will bring out more than 1,400 students across the county.

"We're all interested in science," said Samantha Doyle of her team from Manchester Valley. "Everything has real-world applications."

The team's adviser, Rusty Lamotte, said Envirothon is unique because students' hands-on knowledge can be helpful. For instance, students familiar with hunting and farming can shine when asked to identify, age and sex animals in the Wildlife station.


Some teams broke up the responsibilities, with one team member focusing on each area. Other competitors became a jack-of-all trades.

"I like it all," said Suzanna Schofield, a junior at Century, as she left the forestry station where Tom Robertson, a forester with the Carroll County Bureau of Facilities, had set up a challenge for the students to identify a variety of trees common in the area. "I love how it all connects."

For the team from South Carroll High, practicing for Envirothon was a bonding activity where they developed inside jokes and found friends with common interests.

"It's a place where you can be nerds and no one judges you," said Natasha Acuña.

All six members agreed that they had a lot of fun.

"And you learn something new every year," said Juliza Majano. "I learned there are 120 tree species in Maryland."

At the end of the day, there was a rare tie for fourth place between Liberty and Westminster with 372 points, and South Carroll squeaking ahead to third with 373, Null said. Century took second with 397 points and Venturing Crew 202 came in first with 532. Venturing Crew 202 have been the reigning champ since 2008.

Venturing Crew 202 was awarded a banner and $100 to each team member, and added to the plaque displayed at Bear Branch.


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