June 24, 2016

Mostly sunny

Getting their hands dirty


Staff Writer

GUILFORD TWP. — Melissa Erikson stood in a deep dirt pit, mud squishing between her fingers. She thoughtfully looked down at her hands, slowly rubbing her thumbs and fingers together to analyze the texture. A small gardening shovel and spray bottle full of water sat nearby.

“It could be sandy clay,” Erikson said to her classmates from Highland High School, who were hovering above the pit at the bottom of a hill at the Medina County Parks Buffalo Creek Reservation.

Erikson, an 11th-grader, climbed up to ground level on soil steps dug from the earth at one side of the pit. Her teammates huddled around her, clutching a test booklet and answer sheet for the annual Northeast Ohio Envirothon competition, which was hosted by Medina and Wayne counties’ soil and water conservation districts.

About 400 students making up 77 teams from 15 Northeast Ohio counties participated in the Envirothon, which is a qualifying event for a state and ultimately national competition, said Beth Schnabel, Medina County Soil and Water Conversation District education specialist.

Highland High School students (from left) freshman Libby Druesedow, freshman Ellen Wiencek, sophomore Lexie Buehrle, junior Erin Gallagher and junior Melissa Erikson analyze a soil sample during the Northeast Ohio Envirothon competition, held Wednesday at Buffalo Creek Reservation in Guilford Township. (Andrew Dolph | Staff Photographer)

Teams from six Medina County high schools — Black River, Buckeye, Cloverleaf, Highland, Medina County Career Center and Wadsworth — competed in the annual event, which was held in Medina County for the first time in 18 years.

“It’s organized chaos,” Schnabel said with a laugh.

Throughout the brisk but sunny day, groups of students were led through five stations scattered throughout the park.

The tests included an aquatics station by a creek running through the park, a current events quiz on the deck of the J. Randall Baird Center, the soil pit near the center, a forestry test in nearby woods and a test about wildlife. Teams were made up of five students.

“We wanted the kids to not sit in one spot,” Schnabel said. “We wanted them to go into the pit, to take the soil in their hands and figure it out — really get into the environment.”

Some of these environmental forays were more pleasant than others. Take the wildlife station, for instance.

“They had different droppings, and we had to identify what they came from,” Black River ninth-grader Josh Dean said of the wildlife test with a crinkled nose during the lunch break inside the Baird building. “We had to look at different insects, too.”

Luckily, he had finished his lunch before he conjured up the memory.

The students, clad in everything from rubber rain boots to sandals, Future Farmers of America sweatshirts to letter jackets, swarmed around each station, huddling together to answer questions and make sure other teams weren’t eavesdropping.

“I wish we would’ve had more time on some of the tests,” Dean’s teammate, ninth-grader Amanda Kleinheinz, said. “There were probably 20 to 28 questions at each station.”

Students were given a half-hour at each of the five stations to answer the questions, some easier than others.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Erikson, a member of Highland’s B team, said. “We’re kind of a novice team, so we’re trying our best and having fun at what we’re doing.”

“It’s been a lot of fun, though,” her teammate, 11th-grader Erin Gallagher, added.

Highland’s more experienced A team fared better in the competition.

The top six teams in descending order were: Canfield High School’s A team, Wadsworth High School’s A team, Chardon High School’s B team, Cloverleaf High School’s B team, Highland’s A team and Chardon’s A team. The top four teams qualify for the state competition in June in Urbana.

Several area businesses and organizations sponsored the Envirothon, and environmental experts from throughout the county were on hand to lead students through the events.

“We wanted to use people from Medina County because they’re so knowledgeable about the environment out here,” Schnabel said.

She added the day’s hands-on activities were meant not only to challenge the students but help them reflect on their impact on the environment.

“We want students, today’s young people, to get more involved and knowledgeable about the environment so they can become better stewards of our land,” Schnabel said. “And we all know how important that is.”

Schaefer may be reached at 330-721-4048 or hschaefer@ohio.net.