Spruce Mountain High School in Jay had three teams competing at the Maine State Envirothon Competition held virtually this year. The SMHS Lynx team won the competition. Pictured from left are members Leah Burgess, Owen Schwab, Drew Delaney, Kasey Burns, and Abrahm Geissinger. Submitted photo

JAY — Spruce Mountain High School students competed in the state Envirothon competition last month and came away with first, fifth and seventh place finishes. 14 teams from around the state competed.

The state competition was held virtually this year. Tests were given remotely in four of the five areas of Envirothon: aquatics, forestry, soils and wildlife. The current issue section, which features researching a problem and giving an oral presentation on how to improve or eliminate it, was not included this year.

For the first time this year, each Spruce team had a name. From the 14 teams participating, the Lynx team placed first with 323 points. Team members are Leah Burgess, Kasey Burns, Drew Delaney,  Abrahm Geissinger and Owen Schwab.

They will be competing at the National competition July 25-28. Hosted by Nebraska Association of Conservation Districts and National Conservation Foundation the competition will be virtual with all five subject areas included.

“I was glad to be able to actually compete this year,” Delaney said during a Zoom meeting May 26. “Being so close last year, being prepared then it just ended all of a sudden, that was hard. Especially since we were close to winning the year before (in 2019 he was part of the team that placed second behind another SMHS team).”

“Last year we were ready for it, had a good group,” Delaney continued. “It’s good to come back this year, even with a different group. Last year the other members were all seniors. It would have been sad not to have it two years in a row.”

Envirothon held virtually definitely made a difference, Delaney said.

“I enjoyed being outside, being able to see the soil pit, identifying trees, seeing all the other teams,” he noted. “It was still work. I prefer the outdoor experience.”

Lynx placed first in all but aquatics where they finished fourth.

“Aquatics was a bit of a rough section,” Delaney admitted. “We got back our test, could see what we got wrong. We know what we have to focus on going forward.”

“We’re going to have to know all about Nebraska’s natural resources,” advisor Rob Taylor said. “The current issue deals with groundwater and the Ogallala aquifer, a massive underground reservoir that occupies five states. Water is being withdrawn faster than it’s being replenished so it’s not being used sustainably. We’ll need to come up with a way to rectify that and make it sustainable.”

There will be a lot of study needed, Delaney said.

“We know a lot about Maine stuff, will have to relearn things over again for Nebraska,” he said. “Several places will overlap but not so much forestry, there aren’t as many trees. Aquatics is important there. It will be interesting to look at all these different areas.

Teammate Owen Schwab said Envirothon was fun but doesn’t have much to compare it to.

“I haven’t been to a competition,” he said. “As out of the ordinary as I knew it was going to be, it didn’t seem as out of the ordinary as I thought it would be.”

Schwab was a freshman last year, went through the whole process but didn’t get to compete, Taylor noted.

“Envirothon was a great way to break up the monotony of not having anything other than the normal school day,” Schwab said. “I didn’t compete in spring sports so the timing was nice to have something other than school.”

Freshman Kasey Burns was another Lynx member.

“She was one of the most involved kids we had all year,” Taylor said. “She came to just about every meeting notebook in hand, ready to go. For a freshman to be on the championship team, that’s pretty amazing.”

“It was good,” Burns said. “With COVID there wasn’t much social interaction. Everybody was really nice, it was fun.”

A training session for Envirothon was held at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.

Some animal pelt identification was done there, but it was more moving around and talking about the animals there, Schwab said. It was a way of organizing the things being learned, he noted.

The SMHS Emerald Ash Borers finished fifth at the Maine Envirothon. Members from left are Ava Coates, Megan Craig, Brenden Veilleux, Connor Roy, and Sophia Bernard. Submitted photo

The SMHS Emerald Ash Borers finished fifth overall. Members are Sophia Bernard, Ava Coates, Megan Craig, Connor Roy and Brenden Veilleux.

The Coon Cats team finished 7th. Students include Quinn Fournier, Kaila Godbey, Leah Gilbert, Isaac Parker and Ella Plourde.

The SMHS Coon Cats finished 7th overall at the Maine Envirothon. Pictured from left while using a Biltmore Stick for the forestry test are Isaac Parker, Quinn Fournier, Kaila Godbey, Leah Gilbert, and Ella Plourde. Proctor/Science Teacher Sikwani Dana is in the background. Submitted photo

Bernard is involved with the theater program and learned about Envirothon during a wreath-making session hosted by the two groups.

Balsam fir trees planted years ago behind the school were tipped to make the wreaths, Taylor said.

“Mr. Taylor told me if I enjoy being outside, learning new things I should join Envirothon,” Bernard said. “Me and some of my team members didn’t cooperate, didn’t work together well.”

If a fire hose is spewing water out you can’t suck it all up at once, she used as an analogy to describe what she had learned. Working together as a team can get more information, she added.

“I enjoyed forestry,” Bernard said. “The compass work was super difficult. I’m happy I learned it.”

“It’s been a remarkable year,” Taylor said. “There’s been so much to overcome this school year. It’s been great to be able to have Envirothon through all this.”

Last summer Taylor and his assistant Ken Baker worked with SMHS Athletic Director Marc Keller.

SMHS Envirothon teams placed first, fifth and seventh at the Maine Envirothon Competition held virtually this year. Members are seen having some fun playing Whiffle ball between tests. Submitted photo

“The MPA never really came out with protocols for other kinds of activities, they were focused on sports,” Taylor said. “Envirothon isn’t an MPA activity anyway, it’s run by the Maine Association of Conservation Districts (MACD). We kind of had to find our own way,

“Marc helped us, we were able to find a way to be compliant and safe,” Taylor continued. “That worked really well. We had permission, went through a whole process to make sure we were doing things the right way.”

By using the protocols team members were able to continue water testing efforts with the Livermore Falls Water District. Students visited a timber harvest, went on an ice fishing trip on Long Pond in Livermore and completed several activities on the Jay recreation area behind the schools. Meetings in the fall were held virtually through Google meetings.

“It was great having that support,” Taylor said. “The administration helped us find a way to make sure we did everything safe all year. It’s been such a challenging year. To be able to work with kids in Envirothon and still have the ability to do it, quite honestly it was one of my best experiences of the entire year because I was able to work with kids outside and get them doing things outside of the classroom.”

SMHS alumni Jordan Daigle, Jonathan Brenner and Orion Schwab returned to hold workshops respectively on aquatics, forestry and soils just before the state tests.

“To be able to have those kids come back, share their knowledge and expertise was really appreciated,” Taylor said.

A cafeteria approach was used with Taylor and Baker scheduling activities that students attended as they were able.

“Envirothon is an amazing program,” Baker said. “Mr. Taylor gets kids out, gives a lot of hands-on experience. The kids seem to love it, they do an excellent job with it.”

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