Denise J. Mathews
The Estonoa wetland is covered with lilypads.
A one-acre lake that had been tended to for more than a decade by a group of Virginia high school students was about to lose its caretakers when their school fell victim to consolidation. Both the Clinch River and the cause of education are better off thanks to Team Estonoa’s finding a new base of operation.
For 12 years Team Estonoa, an outgrowth of St. Paul (Va.) High School’s Appalachian Ecology class, had worked to preserve a one-acre wetland it had adopted as its own. With its murky waters and lily pads – which filtered town runoff – the tiny lake was enough of a source of local pride that the town of St. Paul sponsored Wetlands Estonoa’s many projects.
But last spring, after a decade of lawsuits over school consolidation, the Wise County School Board voted to close 200-student St. Paul High. The closing would end the work of Team Estonoa, which monitored the wetland and its function as a “liver” for the bio-diverse, undammed Clinch River it feeds into.
Chemistry/physics teacher Terry Vencil, an advisor and Appalachian ecology teacher for Team Estonoa from the beginning, was rightly proud of what these students had accomplished, and didn’t want to see such efforts come to an abrupt end. Over the years they had maintained the trail around Wetland Estonoa, put up educational signs and obtained grants to build a learning center, rain garden and green roof garden on the St. Paul Elementary school shed, near the lake. They’d won many awards like “Virginia Naturally” and gone on field trips to D.C. and Bolivia.
With the closing of St. Paul High last June, two important things happened:
First, the St. Paul Town Council contacted nearby Castlewood High to see if it might take over Lake Estonoa. And second, Terry Vencil continued her teaching career – at Castlewood.
“Now we do the same thing at Castlewood as at St. Paul,” says Vencil. “Life goes on.”
CHS students receive community service extra credit for monitoring Estonoa’s water and maintaining acreage where turtles have hatched and birds frequent its tree canopy. With a grant from Dominion Resources and help from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ reps Mike Pinder and Amanda Duncan, they are now monitoring wavy-rayed lamp mussels, a common species of mussel, in four little concrete containers called silos. The silos hold 20 tiny mussels each, in four locations south of St. Paul in the Clinch. Is Estonoa’s “liver for the river” working?
Mussels, which start out very tiny, are being measured for growth, and were expected to reach a viable two centimeters in size by the time they were tagged and released in October. The VDGIF staff will keep monitoring their health after that. Their location, near the new coal power plant being built at Virginia City will provide important data in the future about possible water pollution.
With this one-of-a -kind research project for the high school group, life for Team Estonoa does indeed go on.