November 5, 2004
Environmental studies and forestry students at the University of Maine at Fort Kent are more than just learning about the process of ecological restoration, they are involved in a hands-on project that has them developing a design for the restoration of a site alongside the banks of the Fish River in Fort Kent where the town garage once sat.
The projects, which currently involve 35 students enrolled in two introductory classes in environmental studies and global positioning systems, as well as an aquatic pollution course, are directly engaging students to use and develop the concepts taught in the classroom out in the field.
In turn, the students are providing the community with a notable cost savings and, more importantly, a valuable service that will benefit generations of future users of an area being transformed into a nature park.
"We are providing our students with an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge about plant ecology, wildlife ecology, water quality and ecological restoration to a real world situation," said Kim Borges, assistant professor of environmental studies, and one of the core group of people the Town of Fort Kent invited to be involved in the restoration planning process.
It was Borges who initially brought the idea of involving UMFK students in the town project back to campus faculty.
As a result, UMFK faculty and students are now involved in a number of different aspects of the restoration of the six-acre floodplain.
For students in this semester's introduction to environmental studies course team-taught by professors Steve Selva, Stephen Hansen, and Kim Borges restoration of the former Fort Kent town garage site is the focus of a team project.
Groups comprised of three students are each taking on the role of environmental consulting teams and have been tasked with developing and submitting a detailed plan for the restoration of the site.
Following the presentation of oral and written reports by each team, the instructors will decide on the winning plan.
Each team has been advised to include the design of a walking trail for nature viewing, to consider the appropriate vegetation for the area, and to outline a community education brochure that speaks to the natural features of their respective plan.
The work of the students in this year's introductory course continues the work completed by students enrolled in the same class last year. In the fall of 2003, first year environmental studies students documented and described the site in terms of environmental impacts prior to the removal of the structures and recontouring of the land.
The overall transformation of the site which had, for more than five decades, been used by the Town of Fort Kent to house large equipment and materials, would require a new map.
For that part of the project, Borges turned to her faculty colleague David Hobbins, professor of forestry and environmental studies.
Hobbins, a local expert in the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), enlisted the help of students in his introduction to GPS course, who were asked to collect data at the site to create a map.
"This project provides my students with a real-world project. Students not only see that it is important to contribute to their local community; they further realize that teams of people can work together for the greater good of the community. They can take pride in their work, as well as learn from it," said Hobbins. "The students are encountering problems that are real learning experiences that can only be talked about in a classroom, but experience in the field."
The mapping project allowed Hobbins' students to put to use the new GPS base station that was recently installed atop Cyr Hall at UMFK. The station was used to correct the data collected to provide the most accurate mapping information available.
In the coming weeks, Hobbins will use the student data to create a final map of the former town garage site that can be used by the public and eventually compiled with other natural area maps and recreation maps for advertising public access land.
A third UMFK student project related to the town garage site restoration has been initiated by students in Borges' aquatic pollution course.
This assignment, which involves a more long-term study, has students collecting water samples and evaluating water quality at the site.
Borges' class is using a method called benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring, which involves identifying and analyzing the aquatic insects that live in the water and sediments of the Fish River adjacent to the former town garage site.
The environmental studies professor plans to continue this type of monitoring with classes every fall semester.
UMFK will not be the only educational institutional in the area to continue working at the site and benefiting from the abundance of hands-on learning activities the area offers.
"This project is still in the early phases," said Borges. "Next spring and summer we hope that students from Fort Kent Community High School, Fort Kent Elementary School, and UMFK will work together to plant appropriate tree species at the site to begin to restore an upland forest and a floodplain forest. Also, walking trails designed and marked out by high school and elementary school classes this fall will be completed."
After the initial planting and trail building are complete, the project will continue as students from all schools observe and monitor the site as part of their classes in biology and environmental studies.
"We hope to be able to follow the development of this area from an open, grassy slope with pond depressions to a forested area with wetlands and ponds. As these changes occur, we want to monitor the changes in wildlife found at the site," said Borges.
To date, students from UMFK and the local high school and elementary school have worked collaboratively with several municipal officials and others to further the project along.
Individuals instrumental to the project have included Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond, employees of the Fort Kent public works and recreation departments, two teachers from Fort Kent Community High School and two teachers from the Fort Kent Elementary School, naturalist Gale Flagg, forester Tom Whitworth and Heidi Royal of the St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.