Both Carpenters school campuses will receive outdoor upgrades this year, thanks to grants administered through the Blount County Soil Conservation District.

The Blount County Board of Education approved both projects during its meeting Jan. 9.

Work is expected to begin this month on a “riparian buffer,” extending about 1,300 feet along Centenary Creek in Carpenters Elementary School’s outdoor learning area.

“We are removing a multitude of invasive species and going back in with a native plant palette to fully restore the integrity of that stream bank,” explained Erich Henry, director of conservation for the Soil Conservation District.

“You’re going to get rid of a lot of privet,” said board member Fred Goins, former principal at the elementary school.

“Yes, we are,” Henry agreed at the school board meeting. In a phone interview On Jan. 10, he said other species to be removed include trifoliate orange, which has large thorns, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle.

Then more than 90 species of native and naturalized plants will be added, many with fine roots that will help stabilize the soil and stream bank. Silky dogwood, red mulberry trees, beautyberry, Cherokee sedge, cardinal flower and lizard’s tail are some of the varieties in the plan.

“This could become its own arboretum over time,” Henry said. That project already has been bid, and Overhill Gardens of Vonore will do the work. However, he said, there will be some planting opportunities for students after the site is prepared.

CMS meadow walk

The other plan the school board approved was developed by Kyle DeCoursey, a University of Tennessee senior majoring in sustainable landscape design, who worked with Julie Konkel, watershed coordinator for the Soil Conservation District, and middle school staff. That project will beautify the campus, encourage outdoor learning and promote biodiversity, DeCoursey explained to the school board.

It includes both a meadow walk and a rain garden in areas including the north end of the track and south end of the soccer field.

The meadow walk will include a gravel path through an area planted with tulip poplar — which DeCoursey noted is the state tree — red and white oak, grasses and wildflowers. The initial planting will take on a natural appearance in about five years and will require minimum maintenance, perhaps from a handful of volunteers in one afternoon, he said. An area along the track that currently includes an 18-inch depression and large storm drain will be converted into a rain garden, with a raised pipe for drainage, which will allow water to collect and be filtered through the plants.

“All of the plants in this area can withstand drought, but they also can withstand a huge gully washer,” he said.

River cane, river oats and swamp milkweed are among the plants to be included in that area.

The budget has not been set yet for the work at the middle school, but it also will be covered by grant funding, the Soil Conservation District said. DeCoursey said work at the middle school could happen as soon as spring.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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