Touring east alongside I-10 you cross the a centesimal meridian as you close to San Antonio within the Texas hill nation and the arid west begins. Rainfall declines and arable land provides means, and by the point you attain the Rio Grande in Huge Bend Nationwide Park, the Chihuahuan desert vegetation of ocotillo, creosote, mesquite, leatherstem, tree cholla, twisted-leaf yucca, devilshead and hedgehog cactus, and blind prickly pear really feel about as far-off from the moist piedmont and coastal plain deciduous forest of Virginia as you may get. As present headlines about interstate and worldwide water conflicts within the American Southwest spotlight, the foundations of water are totally different west of the a centesimal meridian and that has a profound affect on freshwater useful resource administration and our river ecosystems. In late February and early March, Virginia Commonwealth College River Research and Management college students took a highway journey and river expedition to West Texas to find out about this firsthand and to match it with their experiences on Mid-Atlantic rivers.
The highway journey had two foremost components.
The primary was to drive to San Antonio to attend the biennial nationwide River Administration Symposium themed “Reimagine River Entry.” College students attended talks and took part in workshops on river points with river managers, advocates, stewards, lecturers and college students from throughout the U.S. The scholars additionally introduced their very own analysis and scholarship on subjects comparable to collaborating with the Virginia Division of Conservation and Recreation to help the evaluation of rivers for the State Scenic Rivers Program, growing a course of to watch leisure and industrial utilization of the James River in Richmond, and the efficacy and methods to strengthen pupil involvement in river administration and management.
Following the convention, the VCU college students piled again within the van for one more seven hours to Huge Bend Nationwide Park the place they spent spring break canoeing the nationwide Wild and Scenic Boquillas Canyon part of the Rio Grande and studying concerning the river’s biology, historical past, ecology and geology.
Grace Lumsden-Cook dinner, a VCU graduate pupil who attended the journey, known as it a “as soon as in a lifetime expertise.”
“None of us had seen an ecosystem just like the one in Huge Bend alongside the Rio Grande,” Lumsden-Cook dinner mentioned. “Seeing the entire distinctive natural world that’s solely current in that space was very particular. Furthermore, seeing all of my fellow classmates fall in love with studying about this ecosystem must be essentially the most fulfilling facet for me.”
Making vital skilled connections
James Vonesh, Ph.D., assistant director and professor within the Middle for Environmental Research in VCU Life Sciences, organized the journey. Vonesh developed the go to to the River Administration Symposium as a one-credit course, ENVS 591: River Administration Seminar, by which the scholars realized quite a lot of abilities framed round maximizing the advantages of attending an expert convention in addition to sampled a broad vary of river subjects. College students had been required to develop aim statements for the assembly, a private elevator pitch self-introduction, flip in every day plans for and hold notes on the classes they attended, they usually needed to analysis the varieties of careers of the individuals attending convention. They needed to make an inventory of these they want to meet and needed to observe via and make contact with at the very least one convention skilled in an space of their curiosity and conduct an expert informational interview. As well as, they practiced, introduced and obtained suggestions on their very own scholarship shows. After the assembly they developed a “subsequent steps” plan of motion to observe up on their convention connections and accomplishments.
On the symposium, a number of college students made contacts with professionals and had been inspired to use for jobs. One pupil, Dagan Hunt, who volunteers to help freshwater mussel conservation on the Harrison Lake Federal Fish hatchery close to the VCU Rice Middle, obtained a non-public tour of the A.E. Wooden Fish Hatchery with Patrick Eire, a biologist with Texas District Fisheries, to find out about scientific analysis in captive propagation of endangered mussels and different freshwater species.
“The general measurement of our pupil contingent, the standard of their shows, and their optimistic affect on the assembly total highlighted that VCU is at the moment the main River Research and Management Certificates Program within the nation,” Vonesh mentioned. “Connections our graduates made will result in (or have already got) profession alternatives throughout the nation.”
Lucy Bolin, an city and regional research/planning pupil within the L. Douglas Wilder Faculty of Authorities and Public Affairs, attended the journey. The symposium, she mentioned, was a useful expertise. She introduced a poster a few VCU class, Wilderness Coverage and Observe, by which she is a instructor’s assistant and by which the scholars are working with the James River Park System to assist replace their customer use administration instruments.
“My poster shared the mutual advantages of college/park system collaboration and the outcomes for every accomplice,” Bolin mentioned. “Professionals had been curious concerning the class and the customer administration challenges our park faces — a number of shared related initiatives or took away a brand new thought for monitoring.”
In 2017, VCU launched the River Research and Management Certificates Program, which is obtainable in partnership with the River Administration Society and is designed for undergraduate and graduate college students who aspire to hitch the following era of river professionals. VCU was the primary establishment east of the Mississippi River to hitch and has since grown to change into one of many county’s largest applications.
The scholars additionally contributed to a workshop that introduced collectively the society’s regional officers and the scholars and professors to develop regionally particular motion plans to strengthen the river certificates program.
A ‘wild and scenic’ area course
Practically all the scholars are within the VCU River Research and Management Certificates program and had additionally simply accomplished within the fall the VCU Scenic Assets course with Vonesh, by which college students assess Virginia rivers to for consideration to be added to Virginia’s Scenic Rivers Program. Three of them additionally beforehand participated in Footprints on the James this previous summer time an experiential VCU course by which college students traverse the James River over the summer time by way of kayaks, batteau, canoes and rafts to be taught concerning the river’s pure historical past and biodiversity, its position in Virginia’s improvement and the way its historic and modern-day use impacts its high quality, natural world. Thus, all had not too long ago participated in area programs on Virginia rivers.
Nonetheless, Vonesh mentioned, “having solely expertise with rivers within the water wealthy East is like solely realizing half the story. To have a fuller sense of the problems dealing with rivers throughout the nation and internationally, it is necessary for our river certificates college students to be uncovered to western rivers and western water coverage. The serendipitous timing of the RMS Symposium in San Antonio and the VCU spring break created a novel alternative to attach these college students to the Rio Grande.”
The immersive spring break journey at Huge Bend Nationwide Park was additionally developed as a one-credit upper-level course, ENVS 591 seminar ENVS 591 Rio Grande Seminar, by which college students explored the river utilizing major literature, area guides, authorities experiences, multimedia and in particular person. College students initially camped on the Rio Grande Village campground on the banks of the river and a stone’s throw from Mexico. Wild pig-like javelina, coyotes, and roadrunners frequented the campsite nested among the many small Mesquite timber and the category hiked within the Chisos Mountains, Chihuahuan desert and alongside the river to be taught the vegetation traits of those totally different ecosystems.
“At night time the close to full moon dominated Huge Bend’s well-known darkish sky and was so shiny you didn’t want a flashlight,” Vonesh mentioned.
The scholars then set off on a three-night, 4 day expedition via the distant river canyon wilderness of the Boquillas Canyon of the Rio Grande, a nationwide Wild and Scenic River part, paddling the 35 miles from Rio Grande Village to the ghost city and closed border crossing at La Linda. Alongside the best way, they examined how river move formed sediment deposition and native and non-native plant communities and explored slender aspect canyons.
The expedition, Bolin mentioned, was the journey’s “cherry on high.”
“[It was a] probability to find out about a novel river that’s so totally different from the James after which to expertise it up shut and private was tremendous rewarding,” she mentioned. “A spotlight for me was the night time all of us shared a chunk of artwork or a poem reflecting upon our time collectively on the Rio Grande. I cherished seeing everybody’s sketches and considerate, artistic musings concerning the pure historical past of the river and our expertise paddling it.”
The course was a collaboration with VCU’s Outside Journey Program, which is a part of Recreation and Properly-Being within the Division of Pupil Affairs. OAP supported the journey’s logistics and in addition used the journey as a pupil coaching alternative. It was led by OAP skilled employees and VCU environmental research teacher Christina Spohn, who oversaw two new pupil journey leaders in coaching from VCU’s Pupil Outside Management Expertise program.
Each of the journey’s experiences — attending the River Administration Symposium and canoeing the Rio Grande — supplied invaluable river administration and management profession expertise for the scholars, Vonesh mentioned.
“The course and expertise helped join our graduating college students with profession alternatives associated to managing rivers and lands nicely past our area,” he mentioned. “To be certified for jobs past the water wealthy Southeast [region], our college students should have some understanding of how rivers within the West work and are managed in another way than rivers right here in our area. This course gave them foundational data of western geography, hydrology, ecology, water infrastructure and water coverage and in addition a firsthand immersive expertise on probably the most iconic and imperiled western rivers — the Rio Grande.”
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