EMU Students Help Ecosystem Services Restore a Stream

Senior Jesse Parker and First-Year Wendell Baer evaluate the stream.

Senior Jesse Parker and First-Year Wendell Baer evaluate the stream.

Students at EMU are working alongside Brian Wagner from Ecosystem Services, LLC, to restore streams in the surrounding Harrisonburg area.

Ecosystem Services is “an ecological restoration, engineering and environmental consulting firm in Virginia.” A team of three specialists is trained in different services across the environmental board, including hydrology, soil and sediment control, and environmental restoration. These services assist nonprofits, farms and other organizations looking toward solutions to each environmental issue they are faced with.

EMU’s sustainability program connected with Wagner beginning with the Capstone course last spring. The students in the class worked on the Northend Greenway project with Wagner and New Community Place. They initially connected with Wagner because of his strides towards cleaning up Blacks Run. Wagner is also working with local farms to restore streams that are located on their property. Five EMU students are learning how to conduct stream restoration on these farm sites in Augusta County. As Junior Zach Grasse explains, “I became interested in this because I wanted to know what the difference between a stream in need of help and a healthy stream looked like. I wanted to know what was all involved in a stream restoration and find out what some of the benefits were to some of Brian’s methods.”

There are many steps to stream restoration, which take years to happen. Preliminary stream restoration steps include going to the site, looking at flow rates of the stream, and also looking at how much erosion is taking place. The key for restoring a stream is to stop erosion. This will in turn stop sediment loading in the water. “It has been interesting to observe how things like sedimentation and erosion can affect a stream’s structure and function,” commented Junior Bryce Yoder. Around 70 percent of the nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay come from stream erosion. After these vital steps, they will be working towards starting to plant native foliage, which will also help to reverse erosion.

The students learning under Wagner are looking forward to receiving a section along Blacks Run and other sites by farms to restore. Stream and wetland restoration is a learned skill that can lead to jobs. Farmers can have services, like Ecosystem Services, restore stream sites on their land that farmers can then sell to larger companies, business, and landowners that are impacting wetland or stream areas someplace else. This is termed mitigation banking.

The general goal is to keep the same amount of wetland and stream land preserved. Recently, there is a huge push for landowners to take part in restoration since they will make money from selling the land.

“I was interested in this because I’ve always been interested in the poor state of local streams like Black’s Run. The opportunity to learn practical and marketable job skills was also too great to pass up. I’ve obtained valuable insight about what goes into making a restoration project like this work politically, practically, and socially,” said Yoder, one of the students who is learning under Wagner.

The students who are learning how to conduct stream restoration have a chance to gain field work experience, learn the economics behind this process, and learn more about the motivation and social aspects.

Another student, Senior Eric King, states “I was interested in gaining environmental field work experience and learning how an environmental firm interacts with the public and the government, especially in terms of economics. The most memorable part for me so far was taking depth measurements in the almost waist-high water, and the most interesting thing to me has been learning to identify stream bed features and use surveying equipment.”

EMU is looking forward to having a long term relationship with Wagner’s company, which may lead to internships and other learning experiences for students. “Working with Brian and Ecosystem Services is a unique opportunity for our students to learn practical stream restoration techniques from a professional in the field. It also allows them to assist in solving a conservation issue extremely important to our local area and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed,” commented Jim Yoder, Ph.D.

Yoder and Doug Neufeld, Ph.D., are going to be conducting ecological research into the restored streams. They will be looking at the different plants and animals in the stream habitat, and how the restoration has affected different species. This research will continue over years and compare restoration efforts. Researching is another way students can be involved with the restoration projects.

-Alicia Calkins, Arts Editor


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