Eagleton Middle School gets wetland learning area
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eagleton Middle School is set to create an outdoor wonderland for its students.
The Blount County Soil Conservation District has developed a campuswide environmental education landscape plan for the school. The resource management agency is funding the project through an Environmental Protection Agency Targeted Watersheds Grant.
“We’re taking a developed area and turning it into a living laboratory,” said Blount County Soil Conservation District Director Erich Henry. “To our knowledge, it’s the first campuswide plan in the state.”
Officials plan to retrofit the school’s two existing retention basins into enhanced wetlands, or an existing wetland that has been altered to improve a particular function. They plan to provide additional water quality benefits in the surrounding area.
Workers will plant more than 50 individual native species, such as swamp sunflower, river birch and winterberry, in the enhanced wetlands. They will also construct boardwalks, which will allow students direct access to the learning area’s sites.
Workers will start the project in mid-March, Henry said. They will complete the basin’s plantings by the end of March and complete additional plantings in the fall.
Officials will construct the boardwalks as funding becomes available, he said. They’re currently trying to identify additional revenues.
The enhanced wetlands learning area will provide numerous teaching opportunities. Students will be able to conduct science experiments on covered outlooks, and educators can provide instruction on reading circles.
Officials will also pour a pervious concrete parking area at one site. The special type of concrete will allow additional infiltration of pollutants, such as antifreeze, brake dust and oils.
Both sites will be connected with a wheelchair-accessible walking trail, which will incorporate the athletic campus and will be surrounded by other environmental improvement practices, such as rain gardens, pocket woodlands and meadows of native grass and wildflowers.
Workers will also replace the current metal fencing with wood and wire mesh fencing, said landscaping specialist Leah Gardner. They plan to hang vines on the new fence.
Officials plan to install interpretive signs in the future, she said.
Real world learning
Eagleton Middle School’s faculty, staff and students are excited about the opportunity.
“The wetlands learning area is a great opportunity for the community,” said Principal Becky Stone. “We’re one of the few community schools left in the area, so it means a lot to our staff, students and neighbors.”
The plan has many other benefits, including improved aesthetics and decreased maintenance, she said. “It’s going to greatly benefit our campus and the natural environment.”
Students will also benefit academically from the learning area, Stone said. “They’re going to be collecting samples and observing wildlife, which will lead to a great deal of educational opportunities. Students will be able to read and write informational texts about the wetland and its wildlife. They’ll be directly relating their activities to something real, tangible. I can’t wait to break ground on it.”
Eagleton Middle School will be the county’s second outdoor environmental learning area, Henry said. Officials recently completed the first phase of Carpenters Elementary School’s learning area. They started working on that project in 2009.
“My goal is to see these types of learning areas at every school in the county,” Henry said. “I won’t see that in the course of my career, but I’d like to see us move in that direction.”
Outdoor environmental learning areas make sense, he said. “Every school has a landscaping budget, so they’re already spending money. Why wouldn’t you think about an environmentally based landscaping plan? You can decrease maintenance (cost) by eliminating weekly mowing and trimming and turn entire campuses into a teaching module.”