By Kim Walter
STRASBURG -- Thanks to local Future Farmers of America members, Strasburg's town run is cleaner and flowing better than ever.
Jaclyn Roller, teacher and FFA advisor at Signal Knob Middle School, started the town run clean up project six years ago, and has had students participating twice a year ever since.
Roller said Hometown Strasburg organized the first year of the clean up. However, the organization decided to fill out the paperwork to make it an official Adopt-A-Stream project, which is recognized with signs throughout town.
Roller said one day each fall and spring is dedicated to the project, and they prove beneficial each time.
"This time around we've been dealing more with clearing out the water crest," she said Tuesday morning. "Since we do it twice a year, there isn't as much time for litter to build up."
The activity, which happens close to Earth Day in the spring, fits in with a number of things FFA stands for. Roller said the group is always doing community service projects, and the town run clean up is no exception.
Students can add the project to their achievement award applications, and Roller can also list it under the chapter's 'environmental fundamentals' -- something the teacher came up with this year.
"We have another project with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation coming up in May, and I think that will help tie everything together," she said.
That project allows students and representatives of the foundation to go out on the river for two days and learn about wildlife, pollution levels in the water and how the town run flows into the river and impacts it on a variety of levels.
Students also have a recycling program and environmental committee at the middle school.
Even though environmental awareness is part of the seventh grade Agro-science class, Roller said students really look forward to the opportunity to participate in hands on activities.
"The younger kids hear about the town run project from older students, and it's something they always ask about," she said. "It winds up being like an incentive, because the students have to get permission from their teachers, and they have to be doing well in class ... they really have to put in the work at school to come out and spend the day helping the community."
Josh Stickles, a 17-year-old junior at Strasburg High School and the 2013-2014 Northern Area FFA president, participated in Tuesday's clean up for the first time.
"I was actually pretty surprised by the amount of trash and garbage in the water," he said.
However, 14-year-old Amelia Guthrie, secretary of the Signal Knob FFA chapter, has been a part of the Adopt-A-Stream project from the start. She said the trash doesn't really surprise her anymore.
"I will say, though, that the overall amount of trash is less than the first year we cleaned up," she said.
She said the project is important to her as an FFA officer, because the club promotes community service and awareness.
"This is another way for us to be out in the community, helping to make it a better place to live," she said. "But on the other hand, it goes well with the kinds of things you should think about on Earth Day ... if everyone does something small, it will make a big difference."
Even though the group cleans the town run twice a year, Amelia said it would help even more if those who lived close by the town run would keep their portion clean. Josh agreed and took the mindset a bit further.
"It doesn't just have to be streams. Our community needs to think about the roads and the woods, all the places that living things call home," he said. "I think a good place to start is with kids my age. If we start caring about the environment now, then we'll want to keep helping it as we get into college and settle in a community of our own."
It was obvious that the students had been hard at work - their pants and shirts were muddied and covered in damp patches. But they all pitched in with smiles on their faces.
"If anything, we need to keep in mind that the way our town is maintained reflects upon us as community members," Josh said. "If people from outside the area come to enjoy our festivals or our parks, we want them to know that we care about the beauty around us."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org