(l. to r.) Sam Jeremenko '14, Lee Swegle '94,
Professor Chas. Gowan, Josh Running, Ingrid Stenbjorn
"Yearly monitoring shows continued improvement in the health of Mechumps Creek,"
In partnership with the Wal-Mart Corporation and the Town of Ashland, Randolph-Macon
College has installed an educational sign that illustrates an ongoing effort to
restore Mechumps Creek in Ashland, Virginia.
A dedication of the sign took place on July 23, 2013, and attendees included
Sociology Professor Reber Dunkel,
Environmental Studies Professor
Chas. Gowan, Director of R-MC’s Office of Sponsored Research and
Corporate and Foundation Relations Robert Patterson ’94, Josh Running, a senior
environmental planner at the Williamsburg Environmental Group (WEG), Ingrid Stenbjorn,
Ashland Town engineer, Lee Swegle ’94, store manager of the Ashland Wal-Mart, and
biology major Sam Jeremenko ’14.
The sign, located on the trail head at the upstream end of a 1200-foot length of
stream recently restored after degradation from stormwater runoff from urban development,
is titled An Environmental Success Story. It explains how parking lots, roads and
roofs are harmful to creeks and how
Mechumps Creek was restored through a partnership led by the college, the
Town, and WEG.
The sign, made possible by a grant from Wal-Mart, describes how the creek’s degradation
was reversed with a $250,000
restoration project that began in 2009, when Gowan received grants totaling
$145,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and a $100,000 gift
from The Town of Ashland. WEG also donated staff and design time to the project.
“The sign is part of an ongoing collaboration among R-MC faculty and students, the
Town of Ashland, WEG, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Hanover-Caroline
Soil and Water Conservation District, and local environmental groups,” says Dunkel.
“It is tangible evidence of the progress in repairing nature that has been made,
and it’s a reminder that we each play a key role in the health of our environment.
Perhaps most important, it illustrates the partnerships that R-MC has forged with
the local community.”
The Mechumps Creek sign complements a similar one on the R-MC campus, located by
the Low Impact Development/rain garden at the rear entrance to Haley Hall. The campus
sign explains how the college is reducing storm water runoff with specially designed
drainage systems and native plants.
Gowan was instrumental in helping the Mechumps project succeed—by securing grants,
enlisting the help of R-MC students to collect data, and working with WEG and Town
staff and residents.
“Yearly monitoring shows continued improvement in
the health of Mechumps Creek,” says Gowan. “About 20 species of fish have
returned, along with beneficial aquatic insects, crayfish, and birds. But to me,
the most interesting species in the creek is the students. I live for the moments
when one says something like, ‘I had no idea so many things could live in a small
creek. This is so cool! Maybe I’ll study this stuff in grad school.’ Being able
to give students that experience just a couple blocks from campus is wonderful.”
Running is thrilled with the partnership—and with the project.
“The value of the project has many levels and layers,” he says. “Of course it is
an improvement ecologically speaking, as stream stability, in-stream biological
habitat and water quality have all had a net improvement as a result of the project.
But it also shows what a grassroots effort can produce: real results! The relationship
between the Town, Randolph-Macon College and WEG has been the most valuable result,
and it proves what can be accomplished when motivated parties with like goals work
at something together.”
"We at the Town of Ashland are very pleased with this project," says Stenbjorn.
"Among the benefits are local and regional water quality and ecosystem improvements,
opportunities to raising environmental awareness in the community, opportunities
for R-MC students to have hands-on experience, strengthening the Town's relationships
with R-MC and businesses, and more. The Town Council, staff and the community thank
Chas. Gowan and R-MC's Environmental Studies Department for conceiving this project
and taking the lead to bring it to fruition; WEG for their dedication, commitment
and hard work, including pro bono services; and Wal-mart, who generously contributed
so that we may provide this educational sign."