Mechumps Creek before restoration project
Click on the photo to see a
of the creek and students planting native
vegetation along the creek bed.
Randolph-Macon College students planted native vegetation along Mechumps Creek on
Saturday, December 4, 2010. It's part of a $250,000 effort to restore the creek,
located in Ashland, Virginia, that has been greatly affected by development. Students
in R-MC environmental studies
classes will monitor the biological and physical effects of the project over the
next 10 years.
"Mechumps Creek will be used as a living laboratory for Randolph-Macon students,"
said Environmental Studies Professor Chas. Gowan. "We anticipate that the improved
habitat will allow re-establishment of near-natural populations of aquatic insects
and fish, and the bank stabilization will prevent sediment and other pollutants
from reaching the Chesapeake Bay over a 20-year period."
Construction to repair the habitat for fish and other aquatic life began on Monday,
September 21, 2010. Students received an enormous amount of support from the Williamsburg
Environmental Group (WEG), which drafted the restoration design and oversaw construction
with help from Environmental Quality Resources (EQR).
R-MC student interest in restoring Mechumps Creek began in 2003 when Gowan and Professor
Lauren Bell (political science) taught "A River Runs Through It," part of the college's
First-Year Experience (FYE) pilot program. The course was devoted to developing
a watershed management plan for Mechumps Creek. The students' plan identified three
goals, which included repairing the creek. In 2006, another FYE class, "Repairing
Nature," taught by Gowan and Professor Reber Dunkel (sociology), focused on identifying
the effects of development on stream ecosystems and the options for reversing damage.
Students discovered that an overabundance of water—as well as pollution—was eroding
the soil on the banks of Mechumps. Under natural conditions, water seeps slowly
out of the watershed after rainfall, but because of the Town of Ashland’s changing
infrastructure, rainwater was carried quickly from storm drains to the creek, causing
soil erosion and threatening wildlife.
A key element of "Repairing Nature" centered on understanding the community's social
organization, evaluating changes in land use over time and assessing various stakeholders'
opinions about the stream. As a culminating class project, students presented their
plans for restoring Mechumps Creek to the Ashland Town Council. The students' proposal
was approved and the Town Council provided the initial $100,000 to support the project.
In 2008, R-MC students in an environmental policy course taught by Adjunct Professor
Jeter Watson successfully wrote a grant to obtain the funding needed to start the
design phase of the project, and in 2009, Gowan wrote a grant to obtain the construction
funds. The two grants total $145,000 and both are from the National Fish and Wildlife
"We are grateful for the tremendous support provided to our students by WEG, EQR,
NFWF and the Town of Ashland," said Gowan. "The students have worked very hard over
the years to improve and protect the environment in the Ashland area and it's exciting
to see the construction phase of this project underway.”
As a result of the students' hard work to restore the natural setting and improving
the water quality of the Mechumps Creek watershed, R-MC received the 2009 Urban
Forestry Award from the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Gowan joined the faculty at Randolph-Macon College in 1996. He earned his B.S. from
the State University of New York, his M.S. from Michigan State University and his
Ph.D. from Colorado State University. In 2008, Gowan was awarded the Paul H. Wornom,
M.D., Professorship in Biological Sciences. He is the director of the College’s
First-Year Experience program and serves on the Committee on Admissions, Credits,
and Academic Status of Students.
For information on R-MC's Environmental Students department, visit
For information on R-MC's First-Year Experience program, visit
For more information on this and other R-MC events, please contact Anne Marie
Lauranzon at 804-752-7317, firstname.lastname@example.org.