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Students plunge into dirty work

Patrick McCartney

Armed with digging tools, a troop of South Tahoe high school and middle school students waded through waist-high grass Monday to assist in a stream restoration project in a meadow near Lake Tahoe Golf Course.

Within sight of the fairways, the students set about surveying the dried-up stream bed of Angora Creek, where it had been diverted from the meadow decades ago.

As part of a project by California State Parks, the students took soil samples, tested water quality and monitored the health of the meadow’s plants and trees.

“We were digging to see the different colors of soil,” said Raquel Cansino, a 10th-grade life science student at South Tahoe High. “The soil changes color the deeper you dig. The darker the soil is, the more organic material is in it.”

Other students said they also enjoyed the experience.

“It was interesting, but hot,” said Cesar Reyes, a 10th grader. “I was a rock magnet. Wherever I dug, there were rocks.”

Tianna Meyers, also a 10th-grade student, said the project sparked an interest in photography.

“I was taking before-and-after photographs,” she said. “It kind of makes me want to learn more about the subject. But I got real dirty. I look like a dirtball.”

That’s the type of direct learning teachers at the two schools were hoping their students would gain from the project.

“The main reason for our participation is to get the students out of the classroom and into the environment,” said Roy Benavidez of South Tahoe High. “This way, they find a connection between where they live and their lives.”

The restoration project is funded by the California Tahoe Conservancy, while the student project is assisted by a service learning grant from the state Department of Education. According to Vali Dees, a 10th-grade life science teacher, the exercise will also help the school’s effort on an international Internet project, the Globe Project.

“We’re not here just to help state parks, but gather data for our Globe studies,” Dees said.

Beyond the classroom goals, however, are the long-term benefits of seeing what professional scientists actually do in the field, said Diana Reiner, a sixth-grade teacher who coordinates the district’s service learning programs.

“The students are at an age when they don’t want to learn a lot,” Reiner said. “This project shows the students job careers they wouldn’t know about otherwise.”

The students worked side by side with hydrologists Tim Rowe and Kip Allendar from the U.S. Geological Survey, soil scientist Joe Pepi of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and project participant Cyndie Walck, a hydrologist for California State Parks.

“The overall goal is to rewater the meadow and improve the fish and amphibian habitat,” Walck said. Since the 1950s, ranchers had diverted Angora Creek into the Upper Truckee River each spring to allow dairy cattle into the meadow’s sweet grasses, sedges and rushes earlier in the season.

Over the years, the wet meadow has dried out, with the willows showing signs of decadence and upland grasses advancing into areas formerly dominated by rushes and sedges.

When the project is completed, Angora Creek will meander through the meadow again, and cross the 10th and 11th fairways of the golf course.

“It might make a par 4 out of a par 3,” Walck joked. “But I think it will add aesthetically to the course.”


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