Givin’ The Bay A Break

Students Give Up Spring Vacation To Protect Valley Water

Posted: March 15, 2014

University of Virginia grad students Rachael Beaton (left) and Charles Romero work on pulling a dead tree from a riparian buffer on a farm just off U.S. 33 in Penn Laird. The students, taking part in an alternative spring break, worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to assess the health of the buffer along Cub Run. (Photos by Jason Lenhart)
Robert Jennings, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation field specialist, checks the health of a red osier dogwood planted in 2010 on a riparian buffer along Cub Run in Penn Laird. The foundation helped several University of Virginia students work on the buffer as part of an alternative spring break volunteer program on Friday.
U.Va. junior and Charlottesville native Gloria Desanker works on a dead tree planted in 2010 on a riparian buffer that parallels Cub Run just off U.S. 33 in Penn Laird. A riparian buffer is an area near a stream which helps shade and partially protect a stream from the impact of adjacent land uses.

PENN LAIRD — A few University of Virginia students took a break from work and research on Friday to help protect water quality in the Shenandoah River and Chesapeake Bay.

They teamed with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to repair and maintain a riparian buffer that is intended to filter runoff from fertilizer and sediment at a farm along Cub Run in Penn Laird.

Cub Run flows into the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, which joins with the North Fork near Front Royal to form the Shenandoah. The river eventually flows into the Potomac River and then the Chesapeake Bay.

About 3,600 trees, such as oak, hickory and walnut, were planted in 2010 in the buffer at the farm through a Natural Resources Conservation Service program, said Robert Jennings, a Virginia grass-roots field specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Most of the trees have survived.

On Friday, the students and a couple of Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff were busy weeding invasive plants that are killing some of the trees, and removing the protective tubes from trees that have since died.

U.Va. is on spring break, a time when many students visit family at home or soak up some sun at the beach.

Charles Romero, 26, an astronomy graduate student at U.Va., said while he wishes he could have gone fishing in a mountain stream, he admits he probably would have been doing research on Friday.

“It’s fun,” Romero said of his participation in helping maintain the buffer. “It’s cool also to learn the process, in addition to helping the stream. Learning is fun, whether it’s astronomy or not.”

Gloria Desanker, 21, who is in her junior year as an environmental sciences major at U.Va., said she took time off work as a bus driver to take part in Friday’s program, noting it ties into her studies in ecology.

And the event was “a great stress reliever” for Rachael Beaton, 28, a U.Va. astronomy graduate student, who would have been writing academic papers on Friday.

She grew up on a plant nursery in southern Virginia.

“That’s where my interest in nature and the environment comes from,” she said. “I really miss that, being able to come out into a big field and work on the land.”

Contact Jonathon Shacat at 574-6286 or

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