James Pinsky: Rams know conservation

If you need to know what critter is crawling across your yard, ask a Ram.

The same holds true if it swims, has leaves or goes by the slang term dirt. In short, if it’s nature and you need to know, the natural thing to do ought to be to ask a ram, a Strasburg High School Ram that is.

The Shenandoah county-based team won the 2016 Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District local Envirothon with a final overall score of 521. This year’s team included Nathan McDonald, Hannah Orndorff, Ashley Yanego, Ethan Gochenour, Devon Eyring and was coached by Strasburg High School teacher Brian Fisher. Their first place victory netted the team medals. The Rams also won the individual wildlife category,  which earned the academic team a set of Envirothon resource books.

Shenandoah’s own Central High School finished second with an overall score of 461, and Fredrick County’s Sherando High School Team B finished third with 448 points. All three schools qualified for the Area I Envirothon competition scheduled for April 26 at Natural Chimneys in Mount Solon, Virginia.

“We like doing Envirothon because it’s a team competition,” said Gracie Bailey, a senior with Central High School. “We like learning as a group.”

Officially, the Virginia Envirothon is a natural resources-based competition for Virginia high school students. The Envirothon teams are challenged to learn and apply environmental science and natural resource management knowledge of soils, forestry, aquatics, wildlife and an alternating, year-to-year specific environmental issue. This year’s topic happens to be how to mitigate an invasive species problem.

“The Envirothon provides local youth an opportunity to become engaged in all areas related to the environment,” said Blake Rogers, Outreach Coordinator/TMDL Technician with the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, which in addition to their own local district Envirothon competition will host the Area I Envirothon. “The Envirothon contest allows our students to work closely with local natural resources personnel and to develop foundational skills needed to become competent leaders in natural resources conservation. This team-based contest allows students to create solutions for real world conservation issues within Virginia.”

We need not look any further than Central High School junior Sam Rhodes, whose father owns a local saw mill and logging business, to know why students volunteer for the extra work it takes to compete in Envirothon. The National FFA organization member explained his duty as a conservationist quite simply by saying “every action that you do affects someone or something.”

Indeed it does.

Students like Rhodes left their mark on the professionals who judged the individual categories, like Virginia Department of Forestry area forester Matt Wolanski.

“The level of engagement the students had at the competition really impressed me. Even after the test was over they still wanted to know the answers so they understood things,” he said.

At the end of the day nearly 40 students and another 30 volunteers collaborated to learn, teach and appreciate all that is wild and wonderful about Virginia’s natural resources. The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District is proud to host and mentor our local Envirothon teams not just for the sake of sharing our knowledge and love for clean water and healthy soil, but most importantly for the privilege to help such selfless, civic-minded youth who care enough about our natural resources to raise their hand and say, “Teach me. Show me. Let me lead.”

Thank you to all of our students, teachers, volunteers and staff who helped make the 2016 Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District local Envirothon a success.

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.