Parts of the Hoosic River in North Adams soon will be healthier and even more picturesque thanks to the efforts of four environmental studies students in Professor Elena Traister's "Green Living Seminar" class. On Monday, May 2, the students restored some streamside vegetation.
"The idea of helping the environment has always been my top priority," said Perri Bernstein '13. "By planting these native trees along the river, we are helping the river ecology and the nearby environment."
According to Traister, the newly planted native trees - shadbush and gray dogwood - will stabilize the area's soil, filter pollutants and provide shade and habitat for stream organisms. The project focuses on two portions of the Hoosic River - areas by the local Walmart and McCann Technical School.
The trees - acquired from Project Native of Housatonic, Mass. - were planted along sections of the river that has little vegetation. According to Traister, it's especially important that area waterways have enough shade because several species of trout that live in the region require cool, oxygenated water.
"Keeping the stream shaded is important for those fish to survive," Traister said. "It's also important because the roots of the trees help filter runoff and to keep contaminants out of the stream water so they help to maintain water quality in the stream."
In addition, a variety of insects live in trees. When they fall from the overhanging trees and into the water, they help to feed the fish, Traister said. "Helping to restore the natural vegetation that would normally be growing along the river is a great project for these students to be working on."
"The project has increased my knowledge on how plants can help maintain a river, in ways such as rooting the banks to prevent erosion and also how some plants do a better job at cleaning water than others," said Phil Santangelo '14.
According to Morgan Nankivell '13, she and the other three students in her group share an interest in rivers. The project follows a lab they participated in last fall, where they studied various aspects of the Hoosic River. In addition to the "Green Living Seminar," she also is studying "Trees of the Northeast," where she is learning about native species that are good for river ecology.
"It has been great to do hands-on work so early in my education," Nankivell said. "I have been looking forward to this kind of thing, and I'm so excited that we, as students, have the opportunity to independently make a difference in the Berkshire community. The class and the project have provided a great way to further discover what I want to do with my education and have provided me with many networking opportunities."
Nathan Quinn '14, too, is enjoying the seminar class, which this semester is focusing on the impending water crisis. "All of the projects are working at the local level and, hopefully, are making more people aware of the problem," he said.
"This project has been extremely rewarding," Santangelo said. "There is still much more that can - and will - be done to improve the quality of this river. All we need are volunteers and people with open minds."