High Point class collaborates in tree planting

Jun 05 2017 | 01:16 AM

High Point Regional High school students collaborated with the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority-Wallkill River Watershed Management Group on Tuesday, May 23, to plant 200 trees along the West Branch of the Papakating Creek in Wantage.
The wetland restoration — floodplain reforestation effort is designed to improve water quality by reducing erosion and restoring shade to the riparian area which keeps water temperatures lower and dissolved oxygen levels higher — important habitat requirements for many aquatic species including trout. Wantage Township, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy are all additional contributing partners to the project.
Fifteen AP Environmental Science students from High Point planted native trees in the floodplain next to the creek between the Wantage Dog Park and Woodbourne Park in an area dominated by invasive reed canary grass. After the flood plain was deforested for grazing, the invasive grass (which can grow as high as six feet) takes over and prevents native trees and shrubs from recolonizing.
The effort began with a presentation by Amanda Hayes, the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassador for the Wallkill River Watershed and a 2011 High Point graduate, about wetland restoration. High Point students then dug holes, planted trees, and set up support and protection around the trees to prevent rodents and deer from damaging the trees over the next few years while they are still small.
“Working as a Watershed Ambassador and with the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group has been really rewarding,” said Amanda. “A while back I was walking with my dad on the Sussex Branch Trail in Augusta and we noticed tree tubes all along the Paulinskill River. We had no idea why they were there or who had put them there. But now I work with the group that put them there (WRWMG), I know they are for stream restoration work, and I have been involved with the same kind of work in a new area of the county. It is amazing how things in your life do tend to come full circle."
The SCMUA-WRWMG prides itself as a local watershed liaison for Sussex County, New Jersey, capable of connecting diverse community partners with conservation organizations throughout the state to ensure water quality improvement projects are successfully implemented. In addition, the WRWMG works tirelessly to incorporate education and outreach into various levels of project implementation. The WRWMG collaborates with local and state governments and county residents to guarantee that watershed projects are not only being put on the ground but that the community becomes fully engaged in all aspects of project development.
Watershed Director, Nathaniel Sajdak, expressed, “In addition to the tremendous value of this project for the health of the Papakating Watershed, I am extremely excited about the cooperative partnership between the SCMUA-WRWMG and High Point Regional High School that has now been formalized by our collective work at this new watershed project site.”
Many of the High Point students commented about how important it is for them to be able to make a positive contribution towards improving the environment in their community. “Driving home, I purposely went a different way so I could see all of the trees again. It was really an incredible feeling to see them and know that they would leave such a long-lasting, positive impact on the area,” said Theresa Henckel, a High Point senior planning to attend the University of Vermont to major in environmental science.
“Providing students with the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a way that directly improves the environment, especially at such a local and personal level, is probably the most powerful single thing I can do as an environmental science teacher,” said Aaron Baker, High Point’s AP Environmental Science teacher. “We are really excited about our collaboration with the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group and looking forward to continuing to work together here on Papakating Creek and other projects in our community.”