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Volunteers needed for two student restoration events along Stroubles Creek

March 21, 2017

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Volunteers have been planting trees and shrubs along Stroubles Creek as part of the student-led restoration effort since 2014. Photo by Ann Beverley Prideax.

For the fourth year in a row, Virginia Tech students, faculty, and community members will continue a former student’s efforts to help restore Stroubles Creek, which runs through Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus.

Tom Saxton, who earned his bachelor’s in natural resource conservation from the College of Natural Resources and Environment in May 2014, launched the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative as an Arbor Day project in his Urban Forest Management and Policy course in spring 2014.

Saxton teamed up with Cully Hession, a professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering who leads Virginia Tech’s StREAM Lab, a center that works towards restoring Stroubles Creek.

Since that first effort, volunteers with the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative have planted more than 850 trees along the creek.

This year, there will be two volunteer events, organized by students in Associate Professor Sarah Karpanty’s Conservation Biology capstone course in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

For the first event, on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., volunteers will meet on site at Stroubles Creek to remove as many invasive plant species as possible in preparation for planting.

According to Alex Grimaudo of Williamsburg, Virginia, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation, species like autumn olive and garlic mustard have taken over along parts of the creek, making it difficult for native trees and plants to grow.

“We need to get rid of these invasive species to make room for the trees and shrubs we’ll be planting, because they’re ultimately the species that will improve wildlife habitat and water quality,” he said.

“Invasive species limit biodiversity because they don’t provide the same habitat and nutrition for native wildlife species. In areas with a lot of invasives, you see fewer species total,” Grimaudo continued. “By installing native grasses, shrubs, and trees, we’ll see a rise in the wildlife species in the area.”

Volunteers will spend most of the day weeding out invasive plants. Tools will be provided, but volunteers are encouraged to bring gloves, gardening sheers, and weed whackers if possible.

The second event will take place April 1-2. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 1, volunteers will start planting 280 native seedlings and shrubs along the creek. Planting will conclude on April 2 starting at 11 a.m.

Volunteers will help dig holes, plant trees, and install tree tubes. According to Grimaudo, anyone older than 9 years of age is welcome to participate.

“We’d like to get as many volunteers as possible,” he said. “Right now, there are only about five of us on the core team, so we definitely need help if we want to get all 280 trees planted.”

“We have a lot of the equipment, but if anyone has their own shovels, gloves, gardening sheers, and wheelbarrows to use for the planting event, that would help,” he continued.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, which is in both the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have donated equipment and tools. Facilities’ Site and Infrastructure Development provided funding for the 280 trees, as well as the necessary tubing and stakes.

“My goal in starting this project was to help it grow and to get the campus community involved in the work. That’s really how change can happen,” Saxton said. “Having the students and the university involved demonstrates that Virginia Tech cares about our environment and our community.”

Grimaudo added, “This is a great way to spend some time outdoors and give back to your community. You’ll be able to come back in a few years and see how the trees have grown and how many animals have returned. The work we’ll be doing is really a long-term investment in this area.”

In addition to organizing the invasive species removal and planting events, Karpanty’s students are also working to develop a long-term plan for managing wildlife browse impacts on the planted trees and assessing wildlife response to the restoration.

“This is something that future students could possibly take and build on,” Karpanty said. “These students have done a great job implementing this project and working to turn the stream into a living laboratory for future classes.”

Water and snacks will be provided at both events, and volunteers are encouraged to come for all or part of each event. Volunteers for both events should park at the Foxridge Apartments playground at 13000 Tall Oaks Drive in Blacksburg, which is adjacent to Stroubles Creek.

For more information or to get involved with the invasive species removal or planting events, visit the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative Facebook page or email Alex Grimaudo with the subject line “Stroubles Creek Volunteer.”

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