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EPA workshops reach beyond UNG's boundaries

2020-02-10-EPA workshop-1
Dr. Allison Bailey talks with students during a walk in Tumbling Creek Woods on the edge of UNG's Gainesville Campus. Bailey and Dr. Jamie Mitchem, both UNG faculty in the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis (IESA), used a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish community workshops to run from spring 2019 to fall 2020 on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses.

What started out as a way to teach the general public about the environmental conditions of forest health and water quality in Georgia has created a ripple effect in the northeast Georgia area.

Dr. Allison Bailey and Dr. Jamie Mitchem, both University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty in the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis (IESA), used a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish community workshops to run from spring 2019 to fall 2020 in Tumbling Creek Woods on the edge of UNG's Gainesville Campus and in Hurricane Creek near the Dahlonega Campus. Then the pair went one step further.

They awarded five sub-grants to area organizations to start initiatives based on and inspired by UNG's efforts. The groups and their programs include:

  • Soque River Watershed Association will educate the public through workshops with the theme of how to identify and restore impaired streambanks.
  • The Soque River group also will help students in fourth through ninth grades understand how to manage landscapes with an emphasis on streambank health.
  • Smithgall Woods State Park will teach 500 middle school students about tree identification and replacement. Adults will learn similar concepts in Master Naturalist programs.
  • Upper Oconee Watershed Network will engage citizen scientists with projects and promote sustainable environmental practices to reduce erosion and harmful runoff at Calls Creek.
  • Jefferson City Schools BioSTEAM Center plans to educate 2,000 students in grades K-12 and community members through volunteer events using the BioSTEAM bus to organize tours for field trips and educational programs regarding wetland habitat and conditions.

"That extends our reach to other counties," said Mitchem, professor of geography and geographic information systems (GIS) at UNG.

Bailey, associate professor of environmental studies at UNG, said the workshops and subsequent grants have a positive impact.

"We've built relationships with nonprofits and government agencies and school systems in our region," she said.

Plus, Bailey and Mitchem will continue the workshops this spring. Two are scheduled for Feb. 29 and May 16 at Tumbling Creek on UNG's Gainesville Campus and another will be April 25 at Vickery House on the Dahlonega Campus.

The free workshops are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. All may register online for the workshops. All previous workshops have been archived on UNG's website and are available as PDFs.

Their plans extend beyond the workshops.

"We are also working on web-based instructional materials and field lab kits for UNG students to check out and conduct their own tree health and water quality assessments," Bailey said.

UNG students Jacob Lougee and Jennifer McCollum are working on story maps as part of the project. McCollum said she specifically has worked on a map for the Upper Oconee Watershed Network.

"By using our maps, people can find a stream near them and find out what's flowing down it or what might affect their drinking water," she said, adding the maps are works in progress. "Right now, it is a printed map, but it will be converted to interactive. We are also working on videos to accompany the maps, and I will help with those."

Bailey, Mitchem and Lougee have presented and plan to present the project's research at multiple conferences. Lougee, a senior pursing a degree in environmental and spatial analysis, said all of this experience will help him when he enters the workforce.

"The amount of practice I have had with ArcGIS Online will give me a competitive edge over others in my fields of interest," said the 24-year-old from Gwinnett County.

The maps will be presented to the EPA to show the project's results. Eventually, the public will have access to them for information and research purposes.

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