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Free workshops to give public insight about Georgia ecosystem

University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty members Dr. Allison Bailey and Dr. Jamie Mitchem will teach the general public how to preserve the health of northeast Georgia through eight environmental education workshops during a two-year period on UNG's Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses.

Dr. Allison Bailey and Dr. Jamie Mitchem are ready to step outside of their classrooms and away from their students to get their hands dirty – literally.

The two University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty members in the Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis (IESA) will teach the general public how to preserve the health of northeast Georgia through hands-on activities during the first of eight environmental education workshops over a two-year period.

"Our main goal is to provide education to the general public about the scientific principles behind protecting or preserving native species from invasive threats and the importance of clean waterways to our ecosystem in Georgia," said Bailey, associate professor of environmental studies at UNG.

The first workshop will be March 23 at Tumbling Creek Woods on the edge of UNG's Gainesville Campus. The second workshop will be May 4 at Hurricane Creek near the Dahlonega Campus. The free workshops run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with lunch provided. Community members may register on UNG's IESA website.

During the workshops, the public will learn about soil and water quality by taking samples. Or individuals will learn the identities of native tree species and recognize threats such as pests. Attendees also will trek through the wooded trails and are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather.

UNG has partnered with other groups to impart their knowledge through these workshops. They include Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Georgia Forestry Commission, Hall County and Lumpkin County Master Gardeners (a division of the University of Georgia Ag Extension), Georgia Forest Watch, Georgia Urban Forest Council, UNG's Ecological Protection Lab, and Lumpkin Coalition.

By supplying community members with a plethora of expert information, Bailey hopes they will come to understand the symbiotic relationship between humans, trees, water and soil.

"Hopefully that will lead them to make better decisions about their own environmental impact on their own properties," she said.

While that point is the main goal of the workshops, it is not the only goal. As community members identify trees and register their health status or test the water quality of a specific stream at an exact location, the UNG faculty and students will document the information for research.

"We can look at the data and see how the changes occur over time and space and how the water quality and tree health change," said Mitchem, professor of geography and geographic information systems (GIS) at UNG.

Bailey said she looks forward to disseminating the collected information to a wider audience through a story map, which is a website that shares scientific information through narratives, images and videos.

"This will help people have this information even after the workshop because it will be available to the public," she said.

The data also could lead to long-term benefits for the community and possibly drive another grant. Funds for the workshops were secured through a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was a first for UNG.

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