Students and community members will continue a former student’s effort to help restore Stroubles Creek, which runs through Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus.
Volunteers will meet between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 26, at the intersection of Smithfield Plantation Road and Plantation Road on the west edge of campus to plant trees along a section of the creek bordering the paved path to Foxridge Apartments. Water, snacks, and tools will be provided. Virginia Tech students and members of the public are invited to participate.
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.
Like many suburban and urban waterways, Stroubles Creek suffers from numerous threats, including storm water runoff, which carries pollutants, bacteria, and sediment into the creek. As a result, the creek is listed as “impaired” according to state and federal standards.
According to Saxton, the best way to improve the creek is to restore its riparian ecosystem, the strip of vegetated land along the stream bank. “Riparian zones are important for many reasons — they improve water quality by absorbing pollutants and storm water runoff, decrease stream bank erosion, provide habitat and food for wildlife, cool the water for aquatic organisms that require specific water temperatures, and provide aesthetic and psychological benefits for humans, just to name a few,” he said.
To launch the effort, Saxton contacted university departments and facilities, and recruited friends and classmates. His goal — to plant 1,000 trees by 2020 — was ambitious. But in the project’s first year alone, with 25 volunteers and generous university participation and encouragement, they planted more than 600 trees.
“It’s definitely been a success,” he said. “We’ve had overwhelming support from every department at Virginia Tech we have approached.” Facilities’ Site and Infrastructure Development and the College of Natural Resources and Environment provided funding for seedling trees. The Department of Horticulture provided large container-grown trees and the Department of Biological Systems Engineering provided tree guards and tools. State agencies such as Virginia’s Department of Forestry also donated seedlings trees.
Students in the Urban Forestry Management and Policy course Saxton took have devoted lab periods to planting trees along the stream. Plans are underway for other forestry classes in College of Natural Resources and Environment to join the effort next spring.
“The biggest challenge was just the time involved,” Saxton said. “Hundreds of hours were spent planning, researching, coordinating, and, then, actually planting the trees.”
Recruiting friends and classmates to plan and plant, Saxton may have catalyzed the movement, he says, but each person is key. “This project has really been a collaborative effort; many hands have played a part in its success to date,” he said. “As with many projects like this, it takes a diverse group of individuals to work together to achieve success.”
While Saxton plans to return to campus during planting season each year, he is relying on current students to continue the effort and recruit volunteers. They have created the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative Facebook page to reach out via social media and have teamed up with student groups such as the American Water Resources Association at Virginia Tech.
Saxton is working to have the restoration area designated an official Riparian Conservation Zone by Virginia Tech and managed to protect it from future development. Additional efforts of the initiative include working with the Department of Biological Systems Engineering’s StREAM Lab to improve livestock fencing around Stroubles Creek to limit cattle access and increase the riparian corridor, proposing several “no-mow” zones in areas near the stream to allow for native meadows to return, and promoting the installation of more effective rain gardens and permeable surfaces around campus and the Town of Blacksburg.
“This project also has great potential to provide students educational opportunities to learn about environmental issues and opportunities for involvement,” Saxton explained. “Our generation is tasked with solving challenging environmental problems, our aim should be to think globally, while acting locally, and that is what we are striving for here at Virginia Tech.”
Email Tom Saxton if you have questions about the planting event on March 26 or the overall restoration effort.
The College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, which is ranked the top program of its kind in the nation, advances the science of sustainability. Programs prepare the future generation of leaders to address the complex natural resources issues facing the planet. World-class faculty lead transformational research that complements the student learning experience and impacts citizens and communities across the globe on sustainability issues, especially as they pertain to water, climate, fisheries, wildlife, forestry, sustainable biomaterials, ecosystems, and geography. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.