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'Playing with dirt': Carroll students go hands-on with environmental education at Envirothon

When the folks at Envirothon say students are getting their hands dirty, they really mean it.

During the annual all-day event at Bear Branch Nature Center, sponsored by the Carroll Soil Conservation District, teams from around the county were evaluating the texture of soils, trekking through the woods to identify trees, and getting up close and personal with fish, bugs, pelts and bones.

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Four topics return every year: Forestry, Soil, Aquatics and Wildlife. A fifth topic, which is different each year, asks the students to give a 10-minute presentation. “Agriculture and the Environment: Knowledge and Technology to Feed the World” was this year’s prompt.

The teams went about it in different ways.

Venturing Crew 202, a Scouts group that creates an Envirothon team each year, said their method basically meant sitting in a room for eight hours trying to problem-solve farming techniques that could work on a farm experiencing effects of climate change. Use of greenhouses, pollinators and cover crops were some of the concepts they focused on.

Century High School took a culinary approach to the topic, focusing on edible insects. They were able to order insect flour and chocolate-covered edible insects online and bring them in as part of the presentation.

Some teams split the topics up and specialized, while others tried to practice more broadly.

Samantha Doyle, a Manchester Valley High School senior, said that team didn’t specialize and all team members learned a little bit of everything.

Century’s team took the opposite approach.

For each station, “We designated ourselves as sort of a master person,” senior Suzanna Schofield said.

Advisers for the teams agreed that practicing for Envirothon can help students realize they want to work in a related field.

Francis Scott Key High School adviser Pat White said Envirothon has helped students find out what they’re interested in to pursue for college and careers.

“Who knows they’re going to be good at soil?” he said.

Century team members said many of them first took classes in the subject area from their adviser Kim Moyer, but being part of the Envirothon Team let them get more involved with the topics without students who mightnot be as interested.

“It becomes just like a group of friends playing with dirt,” Schofield said with a laugh.

Manchester Valley junior Gracie Schultz said that being part of an Envirothon team has been good practice as she looks into environmental conservation and veterinary science.

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Tom Robertson is a consulting forester who retired just last week from the Carroll County Bureau of Facilities. On Tuesday he oversaw the Forestry station where he led the groups out in the woods to take measurements and calculations.

One important measurement was trees per acre, which foresters can bring into any ecosystems.

“You go from the Longleaf Pine down in the South where you can have as many got as many as 12,000 different tree per acre thousands, to the Sequoia where you may have two trees per acre,” Robertson said.

In another activity, students identified native Maryland trees from branches.

Bryan Snyder, sediment control planner with the Carroll Soil Conservation District, oversaw the soil pit, a cut several feet deep into the ground in the agricultural fields near the nature center.

There is a practical component and a written component to the station. This is the first time that they’ve been able to dig the pit in a field because of the farmer’s planting schedules.

In this local competition the questions at the different stations are more basic than those the winning team will face later at the state competition or nationals.

“We try to cover pretty much the basics,” Snyder said. “How to identify, how to use the soul survey, how to identify aspects of the soil pit.”

Jon Bowman, one of the advisers for Venturing Crew 202, said soil can be one of the hardest because it’s more about learning methods than memorizing facts and students need hands-on practice with different types of soil to recognize it.

Being part of Envirothon is a good way to develop public speaking and interpersonal skills, said his wife and fellow adviser, Lisa Bowman.

Venturing Crew 202 took first place, followed by Century in second and South Carroll in third.

The Venturing Crew 202 will move on to the Maryland State Competition in June.

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