The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

SCE Forum Projects 2008 - Jefferson HS, WV

The Problem

As they participated in the 2008 Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum, Denise Gipson's 9th graders learned that we are all in a watershed and we should do our part to protect it.  They began investigating the Jefferson H.S. 9th grade complex's grounds for important watershed features to protect.  Everyone knew about the sediment control "pond" left over from construction of the school.  We learned that a few years back the area was planted as a wetlands.  We also discovered a problem.  The "wetland" dries too quickly to serve as a wetland or even a seasonal pond.  Virtually all the rainwater that falls on school grounds is directed to the area via underground pipes so there actual is a lot of water going to the pond, it just doesn't stay there long.  Most of the water soaks into the ground.  Other than a wetland, is there another use for this area, or a better way to use the space for watershed protection?

Challenge to Jefferson H.S. students

How was the original wetland design intended to work?  The Vocational Agriculture teacher, Charity Marstiller, recalled when the area was planted with the help of Environmental Concerns.  The plan was to create a wetlands habitat, or at least a seasonal pool, that would hold enough water to support amphibians.  That is a great goal since the habitat of amphibians, creatures that need both dry and wet areas to live, is shrinking as more and more wetlands are drained and developed for human uses.  The challenge is to work with existing hydrological (water) conditions.  What is the answer?

Trees are the answer!

The Plan.  Plant trees to expand the "no mow" area around the pond to take full advantage of the water that does pass through the area.  Working with Herb Peddicord, WV Service Forester, and WV Division of Forestry's Urban and Community Forestry Program, Cacapon Institute helped Jefferson obtain FREE TREES through a Mountaineer Treeways Grant.  As the trees grow they will provide habitat for wildlife, and shade for the students.  They will also absorb nutrients and further reduce sediment - two important pollutants that must be controlled if we are going to save our local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.

The project was completed on May 5-6, 2008.   First we obtained approval from Principal Paul E. Brown and Jefferson Counties Director of Facilities, Mr. Ralph Dinges.  Then after detailed planning by Ms. Gipson, Ms. Marstiller and the students and staff (and two rained out days) our "Earth Day" tree planting started. 

On the first day, Vocational Agriculture students marked where the trees would be planted.  Using a 30' long loop of string with marks at 10' intervals the students created a triangle.  By "leap-froging" with the triangle, passing one corner over the opposite side, the students marked the ground in a random looking pattern that ensured the trees were at least 10' apart.  We also unloaded three yards of mulch, and sorted and watered the trees in preparation for the planting.

On the second day all the 9th graders, taking turns, had a chance to help with the tree planting.  You can see from the photos below the students learned four important things about planting trees.

  1. Trees are often planted too deep.  Be sure when you are done planting that the top of the top root is still visible above the ground.  Planting trees too deep can "smother" the root collar, the part of the tree where the trunk changes into root.  Find the top root and, using a shovel or straight board, keep the root as high as the top of the hole.  Never bury the trunk.

  2. Mulch the tree with a "donut".  Make a circle AROUND the tree so there is a hole in the center and the mulch is not touching the trunk.  Piling mulch up on the trunk can cause the root collar to rot and also expose the tree's bark to insect pests in the mulch, or disease, that can cause damage.

  3. Water water water - repeat.

  4. Have fun!

Jefferson High School 9th Grade Complex will become a middle school in June 2008 but several of the teachers will remain at the facility.  They have plans, and have submitted a grant, to excavate some of the "wetland" area and install a clay or fabric liner.  If successful, in a portion of the lowest area of the sediment pond, the bottom will be impervious.  That means water will not be able to sink into the ground at the bottom so water will remain much longer.  We were careful to not plant trees where the excavation will occur and look forward to a real wetland being established.

The Journal (Martinsburg, WV) staff writer Erik M. Anderson covered the event and the story can be see here.

Here are a few pictures.