SHERMAN Normally, hacking and slashing away at trees on private property is considered vandalism. This time, however, it was considered curriculum.
On Friday, students from Maplewood (Pa.), Clymer and Sherman school districts teamed up to continue a tree-planting project on the banks of French Creek which was started last year.
The goal of the project, according to David VanEarden, a biology teacher at Clymer High School, is to help prevent riverside erosion and therefore make the river more ecologically friendly.
Students gather at French Creek to plant trees
"Because of the recent rains, the whole river is brown," said VanEarden. "What's happening is that every time you get a big storm, much of your silt is suspended in the water, not to mention all the bacteria and debris. By creating a vegetation buffer, it holds the bank back, it prevents runoff and you don't lose your topsoil. It's really remarkable. If every farmer in Chautauqua County did this, (French Creek) would be crystal clear all the time."
VanEarden guessed that by the end of the day on Friday, the students will have likely planted over 4,000 new trees.
Rather than hauling in thousands of saplings which would have cost the school systems a small fortune, the students used a practice called "cutting" where small twigs and branches are cut from existing trees and replanted.
"It's a testament to the resiliency of nature," said VanEarden. "When you take (a twig) and expose tissue under the bark to dirt, it turns on genes to grow roots. The same goes for the tissue exposed to the air. The twig will respond and start growing branches where sunlight contacts the tissue."
VanEarden said that in addition to the trees which were planted last year, over 10,000 new trees have been deposited on the bank of French Creek that runs through Mike Meredith's farm in Sherman.
"There's no way (Meredith) would have been able to do this on his own," said VanEarden. "To spend eight hours to maybe plant 200 trees at $2 a tree when you've got a farm to run just isn't possible. So instead we've brought in an army of kids to do the work and we're going to beat this battle with erosion."
And even though it was a day filled with hard, manual labor, it was evident that the students were still having fun because they knew what they were doing was helping the ecosystem.
"We're making a big impact here," said Kayla Spacht, a seventh-grade student from Sherman Central School. "I live on a farm and I know it will help the farms a lot. It's also just really fun to plant these trees and be a part of such a big movement with all the other schools."
With three different school districts teaming up to work on the project, VanEarden hinted that the trees being planted won't be the only thing that grows from the project.
"All these kids are interconnected in ways that they don't even realize," said VanEarden. "It's a great symbiotic experience to come out here and connect everyone back together. These kids will start texting and emailing each other and plenty of new friendships should bloom out of this."