An outdoor learning lab will soon be added to a special classroom in Saltville. The addition of this lab along with other upgrades and renovations should allow students to learn again in this outdoor classroom in the near future.
A $10,000 grant from the Enbridge Fueling Futures program is helping to make this work possible.
Carol Doss, executive director of the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, said the work will have a number of components.
The Saltville Outdoor Classroom is next to the town’s playground. It offers eight learning stations and is available for school trips. The Saltville Public Library offers “Go, Play, Learn” bags with activities parents and children can try in the classroom.
The classroom also houses the Roundtable’s Smyth County Conservation Camp, a program for all county third graders.
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The outdoor lab, Doss said, “will be a shelter with picnic tables that can serve as a site for the community to use.”
The lab will feature two panels that will help students focus on two lessons that Doss says are presented at educational events. One will celebrate mussels and the other macroinvertebrates.
“I chose to focus on macroinvertebrates because these aquatic creatures are key indicators of a stream’s health.
The types and number of macros found in a stream… tell us a lot about water quality. Some macros can live in polluted water while others need clean water to thrive. The Roundtable trains citizens to monitor a stream by looking at what macros are found,” Doss explained.
As for the mussel panel, Doss hopes it will “help raise awareness of the uniqueness of these aquatic species.” Mussels, she explained, play a vital role for all species by filtering sediment and helping to clean the water.
As critical as mussels are, she says, “many species in our region are threatened or endangered.”
These signs will be part of the lessons taught during conservation camp, but will also be there for the general public to see.
With the grant funds and about $4,000 remaining in the original Dominion Charitable Foundation grant that helped establish the classroom, Doss said, the Roundtable also wants to “build steps leading from the parking lot above (near Pizza Plus) on the steep bank with a crossing the ditch. With these steps in place, park visitors and speakers at our educational events could park there and walk to the outdoor classroom.
Red buds, dogwoods and other tree species will be planted in the classroom to replace some that died after the initial plantings. Tree shields will be placed around the trunks to protect them from damage by weed trimmers.
Additionally, Doss said, an existing walking path and the circular learning stations will be rehabilitated with the path extended to the new lab-shelter.
A flower bed will be rebuilt and transformed into a pollinator garden.
Once all the costs are totaled, Doss said, additional funds will be needed to complete all the work. She is optimistic about another grant the Roundtable has applied for for the project.
The contractor, she said, plans to start work on the classroom in January.