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It was a bright and early day at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home for students on Mountain Home High School’s Dodd Creek Stream Team yesterday morning.
MHHS AP Environmental Science teacher Laurie Bergenstock and her class of 22 students put on their waders and got to work studying Dodd Creek alongside members of the Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
During their study of Dodd Creek, students on the “Stream Team” took several stream bank measurements to measure erosion levels along the creek’s banks, as well as samples of the stream’s aquatic life and chemical balance.
MHPS School Board member Scott Booth was in attendance to assist the Stream Team on behalf of the school board.
“Our team is juniors and seniors, and we take a deeper look at how human activity has coincided with natural environmental events to improve and/or, in most cases, worsen the environmental situation,” said Bergenstock. “And how all the things that we are currently dealing with as far as environmental problems actually started with their great to the fourth generation grandparents, with the beginning of the industrial revolution and the development of our country. That’s a cross they’re going to have to bear, and their children are going to have to bear, and how can we slow it down. So, we get them out here with Mr. Blumreich and his Stream Team and I turn my kids loose and they learn a lot and have a good time.”
The Dodd Creek Stream Team was founded by the Friends of the North Fork and White River seven years ago after members of the environmental protection group became concerned about Dodd Creek’s erosion.
Starting from the hills surrounding Baxter Health, Dodd Creek winds its way through Mountain Home before running through ASUMH, where it twists and winds alongside the college’s popular walking trail.
The creek continues past ASUMH and eventually deposits itself in the Gulf of Mexico after winding its way through the rest of Arkansas and Louisiana.
Since starting the Stream Team, students have tracked an average rate of erosion around half a foot to three quarters of a foot per year at Dodd Creek. The studies have prompted AGFC to install rock barriers along portions of the creek’s banks to slow down the rate of erosion.
Students track erosion by installing metal rods along the bank, which are used by AGFC to measure how much silt washes away throughout the year.
“We’ve been measuring since 2019,” said Mike Risk of Friends of the North Fork and White River. “We’ve seen a continuing wash of the stream bank, and it’s washing at a rate between a half a foot and three quarters of a foot a year. It’s quite drastic. We worked with the school and Game and Fish because this bank was washing toward this walking trail. AGFC was wonderful in using this as a demonstration of bank stabilization and it rescued that corner up there because it was really amazing how close it was coming in.”
In addition to measuring the creek’s erosion levels, students also conducted tests of the creek’s water pH balance. This year, Dodd Creek measured in at a pH balance of 8, which lines up with Baxter County’s Karst topography.
Karst topography is naturally alkaline and helps prevent a buildup of heavy metals in freshwater. No heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury were found by students this year.
“We’re at eight, and that is good,” said Mike Jirka of Friends of the North Fork and White River. “The reason it’s good is because our water comes from Karst and Karst is limestone. Limestone is alkaline, so it’s natural for us to have an eight. Now, the other advantage to that is that alkaline water doesn’t hold heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury.”
With erosion level measured and the water sampled, students turned their attention to their stream’s wildlife, which was filled with Gilled Snails, Mayflies, Riffle Beetle, Water Penny, Damsefly, Crayfish Larvai, and Leach.
Students look at each microinvertebrate to help determine the level of the creek’s water quality. According to Scott Yaich, another long-time volunteer of the Stream Team, the majority of what students find in the stream today can only be found in bodies of high-quality water.
While testing, each microinvertebrate is separated into two columns: stable and sensitive. Stable microinvertebrates have adapted to poorer-quality of water, while sensitive microinvertebrates need higher-quality water to survive.
A majority of the microinvertebrates found at Dodd Creek were in the sensitive category, proving the creek to have good, quality water.
“Most of what’s here can only live in high-quality water,” Yaich said.
Following their studies, members of the Stream Team helped clean up any garbage they found in Dodd Creek before breaking for a round of pizza, which was purchased by the Friends of the North Fork and White River.
In addition to pizza, each student who participated in this year’s Stream Team is eligible to apply for the Friends of the North Fork River’s scholarship, which gives two students a $3,000 scholarship for college.
Students are asked to answer a variety of questions surrounding Dodd Creek and their time on the Stream Team before being chosen. Winners of the scholarship are picked by Laurie Bergenstock.
“This is that collaborative, community effort that we really need. This is a fantastic opportunity for these students,” said Mountain Home School Board member Scott Booth.