Save Bristol Harbor is completing its 4th year of collaboration in the study and restoration of Silver Creek

In the spring of 2009 Save Bristol Harbor, in partnership with Save the Bay, approached Marcia King, a Science teacher at Mt. Hope High School (since deceased), with a proposal to help take students into the field to learn through hands-on experience what was happening in the recently restored Silver Creek. Ms. King and Principal Don Rebello were excited, committed and helpful from the outset and our collaboration began.

Over the next several months the educators of Save the Bay and Mt. Hope High School worked together with Save Bristol Harbor to create a field study curriculum that met the District’s educational standards. Simultaneously Diane Williamson, Bristol’s Director of Community Development, and Walter Burke, Bristol’s Director of Parks and Recreation, were solicited for directional and financial support. Thus, at the beginning of the 2009 academic year, the Field Study Program was launched with funding and volunteer staffing provided by the collaborating organizations: Save Bristol Harbor, Save the Bay, Mt. Hope High School and the Town of Bristol.

The program annually involves about 25 students (typically seniors) enrolled in the Environmental Studies course; these students spend two hours every three weeks working and learning in Silver Creek with current MHHS Science teacher Christine Bean, STB Educator Kati Maginal and SBH Board Members Keith Maloney, Bob Aldrich and volunteer Bruce Carlsten. The first hour is typically spent in informal activities and discussion of the creek’s history and/or current status, its value as a salt marsh estuary and incubator for many plant and animal species, the effect of development on the Creek over the years, and how well the restoration efforts are succeeding in bringing it back to a healthy and vibrant state.  Additionally, the students observe human impact in the creek and learn how rising water temperatures and levels may affect its long term viability.

The second hour is spent doing hands-on work in the creek. In teams of four or five, the students select sites along the creek to observe animal activity and collect environmental data throughout the school year. Some of the data collected include: water temperature; dissolved oxygen and salinity levels; the number of plant, fish and bird species; plant and animal densities; the amount of litter; and more. Each year the students grow eelgrass in their classroom lab and plant those shoots, along with 800 or more provided by Save the Bay, in the Creek to reclaim areas denuded over time by poor tidal circulation and the reduction of brackish waters necessary to sustain salt marsh health. With Bristol’s 2009 investment of significant monies to restore tidal flow to the creek, the students have observed a significant reduction in Phragmites australis infiltration and increased growth of the indigenous eelgrass.

Each year concludes with a day trip to Prudence Island aboard Save the Bay’s M/V Alletta Morris where the same data are collected from a “healthy” salt marsh that can be compared to the Silver Creek data. In addition, samples are taken from Narragansett Bay’s floor and cataloged during the voyage.

Students generally participate with great focus and enthusiasm as they “learn by doing” in these field studies throughout the year. Some actually discover an area of real personal interest and passion which becomes a commitment in college and life. Save Bristol Harbor and our partners are proud to bring this wonderful environmental education opportunity to our students.