Nelson County, Virginia
On December 13, the Central Blue Ridge chapter (CBR) of the Virginia Master Naturalist program awarded a grant of $700 to the Nelson County Middle School for support of the Nelson Environmental Leadership Club. The club, sponsored by teacher Mary Haines-Johnson, provides students with investigative and environmental opportunities.
Currently 17 students are enrolled as club members with about 15 actively involved. They are a mix of students in grades 6-8. They have varied interests but all of them love the outdoors and living things. Community service and outreach activities are important parts of the club program.
In the early fall, they gathered and identified native wildflowers. Then they dried the flowers and created laminated hall passes for teachers with information about the flower on the hall pass. They also made a tea out of the goldenrod they collected.
The club has taken 2 field trips this school year: one to Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center to work on team building and water ecology and another to Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary to tour and learn about the center. Since then, the students have done one community service project. They donated and made smores kits for Nocturnal in Nelson, held at Woodridge Brewery, an educational outreach project of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary.
Club members are currently working on educating their peers about wildlife and its importance to the ecosystem by establishing Wild About Wildlife Fun Fact Friday. Students worked with a partner to research an interesting fact about an animal and to design an informative slide show shared at lunch.
An ongoing project is the creation of a rain garden and native plant installation of co-adapted species for the purpose of attracting locally adapted wildlife. They will reuse rain and storm-water to maintain a butterfly garden and pond.
The garden project will involve students every step of the way from being part of the site preparation crew, to digging, hauling rocks, planting, and weeding as they embark on establishing an outdoor living classroom. They will be working under the expert guidance of Devin Floyd, from the Center for Urban Habitats. The plan is to invite the master naturalists to work with the club as partners and mentors to students. This winter, students will begin learning about the plants to be installed in hopes of later creating botanical drawings and publishing a field guide of the garden.
Haines-Johnson has also received grants from various local and regional groups, including the Rockfish Valley Foundation (RVF), where several Master Naturalists volunteer at the Foundation’s Natural History Center. Nelson County school students have participated in field trips to the Center for hands-on experience with environmental science. It is hoped that the chapter’s donation will allow continued enrichment programs for students.
CBR chapter Vice-President, Paul Davis, presented the check to Mary Haines-Johnson at the school. Davis, whose career included assisting in many early NASA space flights, has long been an advocate of science in the schools. A Nellysford resident, Davis is also active in the VA Bluebird Society and has built and monitored hundreds of birdhouses for bluebird trails throughout Nelson County.
The VA Master Naturalist Program is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. Interested Virginians become Master Naturalists through training and volunteer service.
The program is jointly sponsored by seven Virginia agencies and departments. It is based in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation within the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech. There are 29 active chapters of Master Naturalists.
The Central Blue Ridge chapter, whose members volunteer mainly in Nelson County, hopes to offer a Basic Training course for prospective members in 2018. Classes cover many of the natural sciences and focus on volunteer opportunities in the area. Current members are involved with water quality monitoring, butterfly and bird counts, park trail creation and maintenance, and educational programs and docent activities at the RVF, Quarry Gardens, Fortunes Cove Nature Preserve, and other locations. Members meet 6 times per year for advanced training. A recent talk was about the Chesapeake Bay Oyster shell recycling program.
For more information about the Master Naturalist program check out the website at: www.virginiamasternaturalist.org. For information on the Central Blue Ridge chapter contact Lovingston-based chapter advisor Corissa Vanden Hoek at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This article was prepared by the CBR chapter with input from Mary Haines-Johnson and the VA Master Naturalist website.]