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Chesapeake Bay Foundation offers learning experiences

July 07, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

BEAVER CREEK

gregs@herald-mail.com

Chris Morris, 18, recently graduated from a Virginia high school, but on Wednesday he was practicing his fly-fishing cast on farmland near Boonsboro.

"It's all in the elbow, right?" Morris asked an instructor standing next to him. "Keep bending it. Just let the rod do the work."

He then whipped the rod back and laid the line out in front of him on dry land, just a few feet from Beaver Creek. It looked like a textbook cast. "Sweet."

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But fly casting was just one of the learning experiences on the agenda Wednesday for Morris and 15 other students from Turner Ashby High School in Rockingham County, Va.

The students were in the middle of a monthlong canoeing, kayaking and camping trip run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to learn about the bay and its tributaries, which include Beaver Creek and Antietam Creek.

Doug Hutzell, a local recreational fisher and a coordinator for the Beaver Creek Watershed Association based in Washington County, said fly-fishing targets trout and can't happen without healthy waterways.

"The reason you can fish is because there's fish," said Hutzell, who helped put together the day's activities. Brown trout are native to the area, but at one point they had all but disappeared after the construction of Interstate 70 and increased local industry and pesticides from local farmers.

The learning experience wasn't only for the Virginia students. About a dozen Clear Spring High School students and recent graduates were going through the environmental and fishing lessons alongside the Virginia students for the day, although they weren't continuing on with the expedition.

Morgan Smith, 15, who will be a sophomore at Clear Spring in the fall, said she wasn't aware of the types of environmental programs going on in the county. She was introduced to at least one on Wednesday and heard about several others through local project coordinators who spoke.

"It's really amazing that they go and help farmers to keep the cows out of the stream," Smith said. "That's a hard job."

The project she spoke of was one described by Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration scientist Rob Schnabel, who said he has been working in the county to get farmers to pay more attention to farming's impact on waterways.

One problem is livestock grazing in local creeks. Schnabel's program helps pay for fences, but he also tries to encourage farmers by using data that show cows are healthier when they're fed clean water and aren't exposed to possible upstream toxins.

Rebecca Funk, 17, will be a senior at Clear Spring. She said she was a little envious of the Virginia students' trip after meeting that school's Future Farmers of America chapter president.

"She's really hyped. ... This would be really cool," Funk said.

Morris, who had been practicing his fly-fishing cast, said he also was getting four college credits for his work on the trip and would be taking home plenty of good experiences.

"This is definitely a lot different from just living in your house," Morris said.

At one point along the group's travels, Morris said he and friends offered to clean up an area along a riverbank because it was so filthy.

Students also have been hearing lectures on fish kills, water buffers and bioaccumulation - the ripple effect of pollutants up the food chain, Morris said.

To describe the amount of information he's been digesting over the past two weeks, Morris said, "I guess being overwhelmed would be an OK word."

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