Photo of Natural Resources Conservation Workshop staff and students. Photo from Michelle Boone.

This summer, ABAC was proud to host the 60th annual Natural Resources Conservation Workshop (NRCW) for high schoolers interested in majoring in natural resource management.

The workshop was four days long, and the focus was on forestry, soils and conservation planning, water, and wildlife. Every day there were at least four different classes for students, ranging from forest management to mining and conservation planning. The organizers of the workshop also make an effort every year to keep the curriculum current and in touch with modern conservation; they always have a “hot topic” class covering a current issue in conservation. This year their hot topic class was “Pollinators,” taught by Irenee Payne, the pollinator coordinator at the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts. Most classes were not taught by professors, but by people actually working in these fields. Afterward, the students got to put their newfound knowledge to use by planting pollinator habitats.

When the high schoolers weren’t in class, they were still getting experience in conservation. They took two field trips here at ABAC, one to the ABAC farm and one to Lake Baldwin. At the farm, the students were shown different farm equipment, and a soil pit was dug to show students the different horizons of soils. At Lake Baldwin, the students were split into two rotating groups. Wildlife professor Dr. Vanessa Lane creased, baited, and set hoop traps so the students could notch and track several different species of turtles. Wildlife professor Dr. Jason Scott, who is also serving as ABAC’s representative on the NRCW executive committee, helped students pull a seine net across the lake to catch different types of fish. The majority of the fish they caught were young and small, demonstrating that successful reproduction was going on in the lake. Additionally, the students also took a field trip to Paradise Lake where they split into four groups and rotated through activities. One group got to work with some forestry tools like clinometers (tools used to measure tree height) and logger’s tapes (tools used to measure treewidth), one group saw a prescribed burning demonstration, the third group did archery, gun safety, and shot clays, and the fourth group learned how to fish.

June 29th, the Chehaw Park Organization came out and brought native species to show the students, like alligators and screech owls.

The mission of this workshop is to educate students on the importance of natural resources, education, and careers in these areas, and the impact of this mission seems to be far-reaching. Recently, the wildlife students enrolled at ABAC over the summer went on a camping trip in the mountains in Franklin, NC where they met Johnny Wills. Being from Dalton, GA, Wills was worried he’d work in a carpet factory the rest of his life. Instead, he attended the Natural Resources Conservation Workshop 34 years ago, and now works as a regional wildlife biologist for the Forest Service.

Over 50 people helped put this workshop together, with support from the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts and other partners. These conservation districts were created around the 1930s after the Dust Bowl and they were “meant to be the voice of the farmers” in a time when common people were hesitant to accept government help. The districts are made up of two supervisors per county, and they are still supposed to represent farmers and landowners. The impact of the conservation districts now reaches rising 10th, 11th, and 12th graders as they sponsor almost all of their attending students each year. This allows students to not only attend the workshop for free but also allows them to win scholarships. After attending classes, the students are given an exam. The two top scorers are awarded a $6,500 scholarship, offered by Georgia’s Conservation Districts. Warnell, another partner, offers the third-highest scorer a $6,000 scholarship, while ABAC offers $1,500 to students.

The workshop wasn’t all about learning, though. The high schoolers got a taste of the college experience as they lived in the dorms for a few days and ate their meals in the campus cafeteria. In the evenings, students also enjoyed a trivia night, a game night, a movie night, and a talent show, where most students sang — and the winning student did tricks on his unicycle.

In total, 66 high schoolers attended, which is less than the typical average of 150 students that they usually have. Additionally, students shared their dorms with only one other student, instead of the usual 4-person-to-a-dorm setup. Despite the limited turnout, the students that did attend were treated to almost a full school week of fun, education, and awards.

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