It has been eight years since Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused record-level flooding in Schoharie County. The effects linger on the SUNY Cobleskill campus – nutrient runoff and eroding banks resulting from soil loss plague the College Farm. Now, a cavalry of conservation-minded students has embarked on an initiative that will provide water in Cobleskill Creek better access to its floodplains.
It is an undertaking for students in Dr. Andrew Gascho Landis ecology classes. In collaboration with Schoharie County Soil & Water Conservation District, the project principally addresses an approximately 275-foot section of the creek where floodwaters have widened its channel. Where Cobleskill Creek intersects with the College Farm, students will reestablish a riparian buffer. In rebuilding much of what Irene and Lee devastated, students will plant trees, shrubs, and place stones around the creek’s bed decreasing the potential for future flooding, and keeping soil out of the water.
The popularity of the Ecological Restoration class allows the College to follow through on these kinds of projects, says Dr. Gascho Landis. As the multifaceted project necessitates student-involvement over the course of more than one semester, students in a Forest Ecology class may contribute to later phases, planting trees and balancing the needs of the College Farm with those of the creek. Those in previous years’ Watershed Management classes worked on a similar project, alleviating anticipated flooding by planting more than 2,000 trees on and around the College Farm. Students researched the types of trees best-suited for the region, factoring in climate, resilience, and water levels.
“We have access to these ‘living laboratories’ on campus, and part of what we try to do is leave these areas better than they were before,” says Dr. Gascho Landis. “Students are drawn to these classes and projects because they know what goes on in the world. This is how to make a difference.”
Feature photo: Students plant trees along the banks of Cobleskill Creek, where flooding continues to cause damage to the College Farm.