Three West Virginia University graduates have participated in an environmental education laboratory project thats earned national recognition for its innovation and potential.

Joby Tasker, a 2004 graduate of the Landscape Architecture program in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences; Dana McCauley, who earned a doctorate degree in 2004 from the College of Human Resources and Education; and Gary Yoder, who earned a bachelors degree in journalism in 1972 and a masters degree from the College of Human Resources and Education in 1974, are part of a team that earned one of 10 Presidential Environmental Youth Awards for a reclamation project in Garrett County, Md.

Tasker manages the landscape department of Deep Creek Lake Design Studio in McHenry, Md.I worked on a reclamation project last year at a local elementary school, two miles from where I grew up,the Oakland, Md., native explained.I worked with various local, state and federal organizations on this project and developed a master plan for the area to be used as an outdoor environmental laboratory for the schools in Garrett County.

His initial agency contact was Yoder, an employee of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He has coordinated activity at the site since the onset of the project, but hes quick to credit the projects success to McCauley and Tasker.

This project and the selfless commitment of time, energy and skill exhibited by these two individuals exemplifies �€~Mountaineer Spritat its best,Yoder said.While many of us, including the citizens of the small, rural town of Crellin, 89 elementary school students and their faculty, had ideas and a rough concept, it was Joby who breathed life into it and created buy-in that eventually delivered 744 volunteers who contributed money and time to build the facilities. Dana’s boundless energy and �€~yes we canwork ethic is legendary in our community. All I had to do was bring the right people to the table and get out of their road.

The team was recently notified of the award, which is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The students and faculty of the school will be attending a luncheon ceremony hosted by the EPA and visiting the president at the White House in mid-April,Tasker added.I feel very proud and fortunate to be involved with this project, which has begun implementation of some of design elements.

Tasker became involved in the project when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service contacted Deep Creek Lake Design Studio.

The department gave us a brief overview of the project and asked if we would like to be involved,Tasker explained.All of the services provided for this project were completed pro bono for the school. I logged nearly 200 hours of design and consultation services.

The site is located on the banks of Snowy Creek, a major tributary of the Youghiogheny River. In the early 1900s, the land was the site of saw mills and a coal tipple. Upon initiation of the project, the land was virtually unused by the school and was primarily used for unsupervised ATV riding and as a local hangout.

The land had areas with coal on the surface, trash, wooded and open sections, visible acid mine drainage and wetlands,Tasker said.

For the project, Tasker collaborated with fellow WVU graduate McCauley, principal of Crellin Elementary in the Garrett County School District.

McCauley noted that her school has an interest in the environment.

Because Crellin Elementary is found along Snowy Creek, our students have unique outdoor-learning opportunities,McCauley explained.Through our integrated environmental education approach, students are gaining first-hand experience and knowledge about ecological principles such as watersheds, acid mine drainage, historical natural resource uses, biological and chemical stream monitoring, riparian buffers and wetlands.

Additionally, our school has adopted �€~greenpractices such as water conservation, recycling and reducing waste. The environmental education laboratory project was unique in that it was designed with student learning in mind, as well as land and water reclamation.

Some key components that have been incorporated into the design include a boardwalk through the wetlands which will eventually be a part of a bike/walking trail to connect to the community park, an arboretum, acid mine drainage treatments ponds, butterfly and rain gardens, a wildflower meadow, areas to monitor secondary succession, and a launch site for a school program Tasker is developing known as the Student Stewardship Program.

This program will allow students to plant and nurture various types of native vegetation throughout their tenure at the school,he said.Upon graduation the plants or trees they have grown over the course of six years will be donated to the community where the students will help transplant and educate the public about their specific plant. The program is in the development phase, and I hope to initiate it in the next two to three years.

The site will be used primarily by students and teachers at Crellin Elementary in the Garrett County Public School System. It could potentially serve as an environmental education center for other schools in the county, including elementary, middle and high schools. Garrett College may also utilize the site for educational and research activities.