Will Esters, principal at Park Creek Elementary School, recently presented at the 2021 Upper Coosa Conservation Summit on the Park Creek Collaborative Education and Restoration Project.
The introduction to the Park Creek Collaborative Education and Restoration Project was a collaborative effort between Esters, Director of the Limestone Valley Conservation and Development Council Stephen Bontekoe and Joseph Kirsch, a Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The presentation highlighted community engagement and long-term goals for the project.
“Overall, I think the presentation went very well,” Esters said. “It was a little unnerving to present to scientists; they’re so knowledgeable in their specific fields of study. This project includes aspects from several different disciplines, so I tried to be specific enough with the information so that it was relevant, but general enough to cover the scope of the work.”
The project began in January 2021 and focuses on improving the habitat for the threatened trispot darter. The federally-protected fish was discovered in the creek surrounding Park Creek's campus earlier this year, prompting the conservation efforts.
Now, the project has evolved into a multifaceted terrestrial and aquatic restoration and preservation effort, drawing in conservation-minded professionals and community stakeholders.
“I’m super excited about the future of this project,” Esters said. “We’re only just getting started and already we have interest and engagement from many facets of the general community and the scientific community as well.”
Five acres of floodplain habitat and 0.3 acres of wetland habitat will be restored over the next few years to decrease pollution within Mill Creek, an important habitat for the trispot darter.
Additionally, about 2 acres will be restored using native seedlings to improve habitat for at-risk native pollinators such as the monarch butterfly and the royal catchfly.
“One of our goals for students at Park Creek is that they engage in citizen science projects and learn about natural systems around them,” Esters said. “We want real science happening with our future scientists.”
Educators at the Tennessee Aquarium, Dalton State College, State Botanical Garden and Park Creek Elementary are working together to create curriculum, educational hiking trails and outdoor classrooms within the restoration areas.
“Up until now, we’ve been getting things ready for the day to day learning we’ll be doing with the opportunities provided from our campus,” Esters said. “We’ll have a volunteer activity coming either in December or January where we’ll need lots of hands to make light work of planting several hundred native plants in the buffer zone surrounding the school. The volunteer portion of the planting will supplement the thousands of plants that will be planted through grant funds with several partner organizations.”
Esters added that the school is looking forward to “bio-blitz” days and field presentations from partner groups.
“Stay tuned and look for a chance to be part of the winning team we’ve assembled to pull off some amazing learning opportunities for our students and the community,” Esters said.
To read more about the trispot darter, visit our website at this link.