Envirothon introduces students to soil and water issues

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Envirothon students testing water

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Springfield, Missouri, in August. It was a beautiful place to visit, but what made the trip so amazing wasn’t where I was, but instead why I was there and who I was with.

I was at the NCF Envirothon competition, in support of Ohio’s winning team from LaBrae High School in Trumbull County. The team, made up of Maddie Cope, Caleb Hineman, Joseph Jaros, Alexus Nubani, Tessa Smith and advisors Craig and Stacey Klotzbach, were truly an inspiring group who did a phenomenal job representing our state.

Wendee ZadanskiThe five-member team competed against 51 other teams from across the U.S. and Canada, gaining knowledge of natural resources, people and places that will follow them into whatever careers they choose.

What is Envirothon?

Since some readers may not know exactly what the Envirothon is, bear with me while I divert for a moment. The Envirothon is a hands-on outdoor environmental competition that tests the natural resources knowledge of high school students.

Teams consist of five students from the same school competing against other schools in five areas: forestry, wildlife, aquatics, soils and a current environmental issue. Natural resource and environmental professionals from a variety of agencies, organizations, colleges, universities, park districts and businesses generate test questions and staff the testing stations.

As many as 250 to 300 teams compete in Ohio’s area events, which are coordinated by Ohio’s 88 Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The top 20 teams advance to the Ohio Envirothon, typically held at a state park or university. Students are again tested in the five resource areas and also given a current issue scenario that they must work on together to prepare a proposed plan and present in front of a panel of judges.

Advancing on

Envirothon studentsThe winner of the Ohio Envirothon advances to the NCF Envirothon, where they compete against the top teams from across the U.S. and Canada. Which brings me back to my time at the NCF Envirothon. I had the opportunity to talk with representatives from other states and Canadian provinces, and many were surprised to learn that I had once been on an Envirothon team. They asked me to write my ‘Envirothon story,’ to help illustrate how it truly does impact young people. I chuckled a little over this wondering how my story could compare?

Most of the students participating at the international level were brilliant, highly motivated and extraordinarily ambitious. Many past students have gone on to become engineers, architects, surgeons and doctors.

As a young person, my dreams were pretty simple. I wanted to be outside. Period.
As a small child, my ‘bug box’ and my imaginary friend were all I needed to keep me entertained. In middle school, I could barely be called inside at dark. I was too busy flipping over what must have amounted to a million rocks searching for various life forms in what was little more than a glorified storm sewer behind our house.

Curious kid

When we visited the Ohio River with my dad, other kids played and I was the weird one sitting on the dock waiting for dragonfly larvae to climb up out of the water and begin their transformation.

I scoffed at even the thought that a boy could be more interesting than a frog most of my first years of high school, and I certainly would have preferred the frog stay a frog and not become a prince. As college loomed, it made me a little sick to my stomach. I loved academics but squirmed at the thought of having to make such an important decision about the rest of my life. By my senior year of high school, I was a little panicked about my future.

But then … the ‘Aha’ moment. Two things happened: A high school outdoor class that strengthened my passion for conservation and the outdoors; and the Envirothon, a high school environmental competition that truly opened my eyes about natural resources and the vast number of career opportunities out there for students like me.

Finally, I knew where I was headed. I ended up with a degree in conservation from Kent State University. After college, ultimately I made my way back here — to Jefferson County Ohio — where I started, only by now, I was working for the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District — the very agency who sponsored the local Envirothon of which I had been a part in high school. I started out helping with the area competitions and also began to assist with the Ohio Envirothon, eventually becoming Ohio’s representative to the NCF Envirothon.

My story told

That’s my story. I guess what makes it interesting isn’t that we had a first place team (we didn’t even place highly in our area competition) or that I went on to be an astronaut.
What makes it interesting is that it really did have an impact on me. It started me on a career path that I wholeheartedly wanted to pursue.

So by now, you might be asking yourself why any of this matters. It matters because education programs for youth and adults are an integral part of the mission of Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the U.S. The Envirothon offers young people the opportunity to get outside and learn factual information about the natural resources issues of our time. It matters because all of us know a young person who will very soon be an adult making decisions about the world we live in.

Today’s Envirothon team member may some day have an impact on you. They may be the next forester walking your property, or soil conservationist or wildlife officer. They may even be the next surgeon who operates on you or legislator proposing an important environmental bill. Some of them will simply be grateful for the experience and have no idea where this is all going to fit into life’s career journey.

For others, it will be the very beginning.

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Wendee Zadanski has been the natural resources specialist for the Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District since 2001. She has a bachelor’s degree in natural resources conservation from Kent State University. She can be reached at 740-264-9790 or wzadanski@jeffersoncountyoh.com.

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