Cacapon Newsletter Volume 14, Number 1 June 2005
bulletThe Potomac Highlands Watershed School
bulletFrom the Director
bulletSpring Run Project
bulletStream Scholars Summer Camp 2005
bulletRiparian Buffer Demonstration Project


The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

     Cacapon Institute’s Potomac Highland's Watershed School (PHWS) has opened its doors!  Nestled in a beautiful West Virginia hollow, our four-room schoolhouse welcomes students of all ages.  It's easy to find - because we're on the web here.

     Our school was created to increase understanding of important water quality and watershed issues in West Virginia's Potomac Highlands - and, by extension, much of Appalachia.  The watershed school has lessons about watersheds, water pollution, and land-use planning.   Regional issues underlie each lesson, and many are as relevant for adults as school children.  For example, the pollution curriculum is based on West Virginia's efforts to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

     Interactive games form the core of each curriculum.  These games can be played by themselves but are more effective when used as part of broader lessons supported by other parts of the classroom, such as the blackboard or on the bookshelf.  Lesson plans keyed to required WV educational content are provided to help teachers get the most from the site.

     Kids, with their inherent understanding of computers, will quickly know how to use the classroom.  As for adults- don’t panic!  Our watershed school is adult-friendly.  Most of the objects in each room are links.  You simply click on whatever catches your eye and see what pops up. You can also click on “The Potomac Highlands Watershed School” anywhere the name appears and some background information will popup.  Each classroom has layers:


A blackboard - with age-appropriate activities that include a learning phase, where information is read, and a testing phase, where the knowledge is either tested in a quiz or matching exercise, or put to use to solve a problem.  Also on the blackboard, a list of relevant vocabulary - with definitions just a click away.


A bookcase, with sections providing useful background information in each of the curriculum areas.


A computer gateway to the many environmental organizations and agencies that serve the greater Potomac region.


A window to some of our favorite Potomac Highlands images.   If you have a favorite Potomac picture that you would like to see on the site, please feel free to send it our way.


An "open book" with a reading selection.


A magnifying glass with images and some natural history about some Potomac Highlands' aquatic insects.


The High School also has a telephone, a chance to participate in conversations on issues of regional interest.

Watershed Curriculum

     In the watershed curriculum, students learn about the parts and functions of watersheds. The watershed – rather than political boundaries - has become the organizing concept underlying environmental assessment and protection efforts at both the local, state and regional levels.  This is important because we all live downstream from someone else in our watershed.  For example, the Chesapeake Bay is "downstream" from West Virginia, and efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution focus on pollution delivered through watersheds (like the Potomac).  The Potomac Watershed Puzzle and Watershed Creator games, scavenger hunts, background information, and assorted links help students  understand the parts, functions, and interrelationships of a watershed.  This lays the groundwork for later discussions and more complex topics.

Water Pollution Curriculum

     Many watersheds in West Virginia are threatened by non point source pollution. Important issues concerning this type of pollution are addressed in Stream Cleaner, the main activity in this curriculum. Stream Cleaner is a game of strategy.  The player tries to clean up a stream polluted by excess nutrients and sediment by selecting the best combination of land management practices before they run out of money.  While playing the game, the user explores the relationship between people's actions and their impact on our environment.  This module was designed to teach students about some important sources of non point source pollution in the Potomac Highlands, and some of the tools available and costs associated with reducing non point source pollution in our waterways.

     WV is working to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution as part of the State's agreement to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay - and clean up our own waters at the same time.  Stream Cleaner uses Chesapeake Bay Program estimates of nutrient and sediment loads and Best Management Practice efficiencies and costs.  Their estimates were simplified and modified by CI for use in the game.  (Note: this game has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Chesapeake Bay Program.)  Background information on Stream Cleaner in the pollution section of the Bookshelf explains how the simplifying decisions were made.  Also available through the "bookshelf" are selected readings from the WV Potomac Tributary Strategy and the Chesapeake Bay Program to help the user better understand the issues.

     The pollution curriculum can lead into discussions and further reading on pollution science, land management and economic decisions, community decision making and citizenship, and the role of government.  Stream Cleaner and the supporting materials would be appropriate for general science, biology, environmental science, social science, and vocational-agriculture courses.

Planning Curriculum

     The Planning Curriculum provides a first person perspective on some of the challenges faced by county officials when deciding the future of their community.  In Decision Matrix the player is a newly hired county planner.  The planner’s first assignment is to produce a ten-year county plan to encourage economic growth while preserving the well-being of the county and conserving its essential water resources.  Students play out this role by choosing four of eight possible development options.  Each option has an accurate, in-depth description, and symbolic meaning for the future of the county envisioned by the planner.

     The short and long-term outcomes of the choices are guesses based on some assumptions, drawn from past successes or failures, and topped with just a little personal bias.  The game takes a somewhat holistic approach.  Different option groupings work in combination to produce results they would not have produced in isolation.  For example, a golf course resort can have relatively more or less impact on the environment depending on the other options chosen.  "Good" or "bad" results are truly in the eye of the beholder.  There is a form in the Planning section of the Bookshelf for players to offer alternative endings.  The best and/or most humorous of these will be posted on the website.

     Decision Matrix and the planning curriculum are supported by additional background material, relevant links, and a scavenger hunt.  The curriculum is designed to encourage further discussion about water resource management, environmental impacts of development, and the role that politics and public opinion typically play in county development.

Environmental Forum

     The telephone in the High School classroom provides entry to moderated conversations about selected environmental issues in the Potomac Highlands.  Bill Moore's environmental science classes at Hampshire High school took part in the first forum on the problem of deer overpopulation on our region.  Consulting forester Dave Warner and WVU Extension agronomist Bill Grafton helped us get started by providing their perspective on the effects of too many deer on the health of forests and viability of farming, respectively.  After reading their comments, and accessing material in various links, the students had a solid base to inform their discussions.  By coincidence, a research study conducted at West Virginia University on the effects of deer foraging on ginseng was published as we began the conversation.  The study found that the survival of ginseng, a medicinal plant that lives on our forest floor and generates more than $2 million in income annually for harvesters, is threatened by deer foraging.

     This activity has led to a new environmental learning project at Hampshire High School.  With funding from the Potomac Valley Conservation District, Mr. Moore will be installing a deer fence in a small plot of forest land on the school's campus.  He and his environmental science students will be monitoring the changes to vegetation in the deer exclosure (an enclosure that keeps something out) and comparing changes to an unprotected test plot over the coming years.

     This conversation is now closed, but the background material and student responses can still be accessed on the site.  We plan to revisit this and other topics, including the politics and practice of riparian buffers, next fall.  Our hope is to have schools throughout the region involved.

     The Potomac Highlands Watershed School is a work in progress (and probably always will be).  New elements will be added on a regular basis (as time and resources allow).  For example, a slide show for the Stream Cleaner activity was developed recently for use with 6th graders at the Jefferson County Science Olympiad.  Also, over the summer we will be augmenting the offerings in the elementary school.

     We are eager to receive thoughtful criticism.  We encourage you to visit our school and tell us what you think - every classroom has an email link for comments.  A fast internet connection helps, particularly if you are using the Flash interactive games listed on the blackboard.  They work on dial-up, but they will take a while to download.   Also, your screen should be set for at least 1024x768 resolution.

     The Learning Center project would not have been possible without generous support through grants from the USEPA, the Canaan Valley Institute, The Marpat Foundation, the Spring Creek Foundation and, as always, member donations.  Luke Fleshman, recent graduate of WVU and a product of Hampshire County Schools did our Flash programming.  The classroom art is by Neil and Jennifer Gillies.

     Volunteer Bob Markley and CI staff spent many hours reviewing material and testing games.  Content and “playability” were reviewed by partners at the WV Conservation Agency, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Canaan Valley Institute, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, area teachers, and students.   We could not have done this without their help, but any errors are the responsibility of Cacapon Institute.

Please tell us if you have any problems with the site.  We have tested all elements on many different computers with different operating systems, browsers, and software—but it seems there is always some new configuration that has “issues” to be resolved.

The site is best viewed with 1024 x 768 or higher resolution and with the monitor in Full Screen mode.  If you have a dial-up connection, the Flash activities will take several minutes to load the first time you use them. 

For Educators

Each curriculum complies with the WV Content Standards and Objectives (CSO) that govern the subject areas that teachers are required to cover.  Social studies CSOs, in addition to topics in geography, include lessons on citizenship, civics, and economics, in which they explore citizen participation in shaping public policy, examine the function and responsibilities of governments at the local, state and national levels, and explore the role of economic choices in resource allocation, decision-making, and trade-offs.  Science CSOs include Standard 6, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives, which requires students to evaluate impacts on health, population, resource and environmental issues from different points of view, predict long-term societal impacts, and understand public policy decisions.  The Watershed School's lessons help teachers use regionally relevant topics to address those CSOs.


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Comments on the Site

"It's great to have such an outstanding conservation education resource originate here in the Mountain State!"

Randy Robinson, Distance Learning Coordinator, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


“It is one of the finest applications of internet technologies we have experienced.  It is great that this is put together locally, as it makes all the learning more relevant.  "

Bill Moore, Hampshire High School



From the Director

     A lot has happened at CI over the past year.  The biggest change occurred when Peter Maille, our long-time Education and Outreach Coordinator, left last summer to pursue a Ph.D. in economics.  After coming on board in 1999, he set to work fleshing out the education program.  His last major project involved getting our web classroom started.  He first had to convince me there was need for such a thing.  After knocking his head against that particular brick wall for a time he finally broke through – and the result is The Potomac Highlands Watershed School.   You can read more about it in the feature article beginning on page 1.  While still, and probably perpetually, in development, I believe it is a suitable legacy for Peter’s dedication to environmental education at CI.  And please, we truly need your feedback.

     While CI has never worked in isolation, we are working with more non-profit and government partners than ever before, on projects as diverse as developing forested riparian buffer demonstration projects for the WV Potomac Tributary Strategy (page 6) and studying how improving treatment of a point source effluent will effect a wild rainbow trout stream (page 2, below).   

     We make every effort to keep our website current with new and updated features.  For example, there is a full treatment of the Stream Flow Restoration Project that was featured in the March 2004 Cacapon newsletter, including graphics and text explaining how we are collecting data, early results, and pictures of the first fifteen structures that were installed last fall.

     Finally, we noted in the March 2004 Cacapon that the WV Environmental Quality Board had just survived an attack in the WV legislature that would have shifted their rule-making authority from a group of reasonably independent scientists to WVDEP, an agency run by political appointees.  Sadly, they did not survive the assault this year.  I suspect we’ll just have to learn what that means over time. 


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Spring Run Research Project

Spring Run is a unique stream in the Potomac Highlands region of Grant County, West Virginia.  Unlike many headwater streams that tend to go dry in the summer, it is fed by the largest spring in the region.  Discharge typically ranges from 3000-3500 gallons per minute.

     With a temperature of ~53 F and a pH of about 8 at the spring, the water is ideal for trout and the aquatic insects they eat.  To improve physical conditions for trout, The Friends of Spring Run’s Wild Trout restored habitat on a three-fourths mile section of Spring Run, and issue permits for catch-and-release fly fishing of the wild rainbow trout that live there.

     But that is not the whole story.  WV Department of Natural Resources owns and operates the Spring Run Trout Hatchery located a short distance below the spring, and above the restored section of the stream.  The hatchery is preparing to install an effluent treatment process at the facility to meet their permit requirements and improve the quality of water leaving the facility. 

     Cacapon Institute is partnering with Friends of Spring Run’s Wild Trout, WV Conservation Agency, WV Department of Agriculture, WV Division of Natural Resources and WV Department of Environmental Protection on a water quality research project to address questions concerning the impacts of nutrient and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) rich effluent on the Spring Run ecosystem.

     The project team will gather data on water chemistry, benthic invertebrates, periphyton (attached algae and other organisms that live on surface of rocks) and fish samples to assess current conditions prior to the upgrade of the effluent treatment process.  At least two consecutive years of monitoring will follow the treatment plant upgrade to determine the long term impacts on water quality and aquatic life. 

     This project is being financed by the West Virginia Conservation Agency through the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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Stream Scholars Summer Camp 2005

It’s summer once again, and the third year of Stream Scholars is quickly approaching. Stream Scholars is a five-day, non-residential summer camp in August.  Promising young students explore stream ecology and conservation with professional scientists. Campers learn how to measure physical, biological, and chemical properties of streams, as well as how to map the landscape.

     Last year’s program ended with each camper creating and conducting a mini-project, then presenting their results to the group. This year, the final two days will be spent on a two-day field trip to the Chesapeake Bay area that will include a guided canoe trip on the Patuxent River, overnight camping, and a visit to the biological laboratories at Solomon’s Island. This trip is supported by the Baker’s Run Conservation Society and coordinated by the WV Conservation Agency.

     For more information about Stream Scholars or an application form, go to, or feel free to contact us. We can only take ten kids, so apply soon!

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Riparian Buffer Demonstration Project

     Forested riparian buffers are wide strips of trees located along river and stream corridors.  They provide many important benefits, including shade to keep river water cool and wildlife habitat.  They also significantly reduce the flow of pollution from the land into our rivers by filtering nutrients, sediments and other pollutants from runoff as well as removing nutrients from groundwater, allowing cleaner water to flow through to the stream.

     Forested riparian buffers are an important component of West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy to reduce the transport of nutrients and sediment into West Virginia waters and the Chesapeake Bay.  It is anticipated that several hundred acres of these buffers will be planted in the coming years.

     The West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy Implementation Team and USDA-NRCS partner Steve Ritz facilitated the planting of two forested riparian buffer demonstration projects in April 2005. 

     The first site selected for this demonstration project was near Yellow Spring in Hampshire County, along the banks of the Cacapon River.  This site has, sadly, been a visible demonstration of how difficult it is to protect newly planted trees from drought stress and browsing damage (from the region's ubiquitous deer).  Saplings were planted and replaced repeatedly at this site in the mid-1990s.    They were not watered or protected from deer browse and few, if any, have survived

     This time around, each plant has a weed mat to reduce competition and retain moisture. They are also planted in tree tubes, primarily for protection from browsing.  Native hardwood trees were planted on a 20' X 20' spacing, and shrubs and smaller trees were planted on a 12' X 12' spacing. 

     This project and others will provide demonstrations of this important Best Management Practice.  We will measure the relative success of various planting methods: for example, tubes or no tubes.  Measuring success is important because the success of riparian plantings in this region has thus far been poor.  Learn more here.

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Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
PO Box 68
High View, WV 26808
304-856-1385 (tele)
304-856-1386 (fax)
Click here to send us an email
Frank Rodgers,  Executive Director

Website  made possible by funding from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation,  the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Virginia Environmental Endowment, NOAA-BWET, USEPA, The MARPAT Foundation, and our generous members.