Trailing Ahead: Environmental science students partner with City of Athens to develop new hiking trail

Posted on: October 29, 2013

Tennessee Wesleyan College Environmental Science students have embarked on a partnership with the City of Athens that has allowed them to participate in a service-learning project that benefits both the students and the community.

Tennessee Wesleyan College Environmental Science students have embarked on a partnership with the City of Athens that has allowed them to participate in a service-learning project that benefits both the students and the community.

Caroline Young, TWC assistant professor in the department of natural sciences, wanted to provide her students an opportunity to get out of the classroom and experience environmental issues that are facing their city firsthand. The TWC environmental science students partnered with the City of Athens to perform an environmental assessment and mitigate environmental threats on city property that will be used to develop Eagle Trail, a new Athens hiking trail.

The students not only learned about environmental concepts and issues through their project work, but they were also able to make a positive environmental impact on their community by helping city planners determine the impact of building a hiking trail in an area next to an industrial site.

“It is my hope that by involving students in environmental projects through service-learning, they will see how the issues we discuss in the classroom directly impact our own city, and they will then understand that their efforts make an important difference in the world,” said Young. “I hope to foster a spirit of caring for the Earth in my students that will last long after my class is over.”

Young’s students worked in small groups to perform the initial assessment of the property, with each group taking a different section of the proposed trail. Each group made detailed field observations including presence of man-made structures and environmental problems, took photo samples of dominant plant and insect life, noted the presence of bird and animal life, and also noted the type of soil. 

Using a follow-up lab to identify their samples and photos, they researched detailed questions on impacts of the trail construction. After compiling their data into environmental impact statements for their section of the trail, the statements were given to Shawn Lindsey, city of Athens public works director, to provide information for the city on each different section of the trail.

Some of the major environmental issues students noted on the property included dumped garbage, erosion, presence of invasive species, and areas with unsightly views in need of buffer plantings. The students worked to clean up garbage from all sections of the trail and also removed large items such as old tires and even an old recliner.

In early November the students will return to the property to plant trees that will serve as a buffer for areas of the trail with unsightly views.

“The work the students did on our Eagle Trail site is a perfect example of how service-learning can improve a community and at the same time make the education experience more meaningful, by putting knowledge into practice,” said Lindsey.

“The result will be a lasting improvement to our community that will allow more people the chance to enjoy nature and realize better health from regular hiking. It will also make our industrial property more attractive for recruiting industries. It was a pleasure to work with the students on this project and to have 40 minds working on problems, finding solutions, and sharing insights that will impact our community.”