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The students became known as Team Estonoa and the protection and conservation of Wetlands Estonoa became their mission. Today, Team Estonoa members accept the responsibility and realize this student directed project mandates hours of commitment to participate in this innovative service-learning program.  Seeing how enthusiastic and dedicated students are year after year, the Town of St. Paul is honored to partner in the preservation and protection of this natural treasure.



Today Wetands Estonoa is internationally known as a model for successful outdoor classrooms where students of all ages study a myriad of subjects and can put their interests to use through many service learning projects. The Learning Center has become a hub for outdoor environmental education opportunities throughout the Clinch River Watershed for both educators and students. The facilities are used for social gatherings as well. Estonoa is a certified Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail and a popular respite for locals and visitors alike. All one needs to do is stroll the perimeter of the wetlands to understand the magic and tranquility of this place. We welcome you to discover Estonoa for yourself!


Estonoa began as a wet cornfield in the 1900s. John Hillman, owner of the land, allowed his sons to dam the stream flooding the cornfield and turning it into a swimming hole. Estonoa became the social focus of the community until the mid-1900s when Saint Paul built its first community pool. Sadly the swimming hole turned into an eye sore and was used as an illegal trash dump.


In spring 1999, Appalachian ecology student at St. Paul High School, Stevie Sabo did a project on Lake Estonoa. It covered the lake's history, present condition, and his desire to return it to its pristine state. That fall, Nikki Buffalow expanded on his report and discovered the lake was actually a wetlands. With the help of the Corp. of Engineers, Appalachian ecology and physic classes, Estonoa was officially certified in 2000.



St. Paul is a small southwest Virginia town of approximately 1,000 citizens. Located in Wise County, situated along Route 58A, bordered by Russell County, our community is nestled in a karst river valley having the Clinch River as primary water source. The karst topography results from the dissolving and weathering of our limestone mountains resulting in numerous caves and sinkholes.

St. Paul High School was the smallest of Wise County’s six high schools with about 200 students, including grades 8-12. Wetlands Estonoa  is immediately adjacent to the school complex and acts as a buffer zone for the town’s water source – the Clinch River. According to the Nature Conservancy, the Clinch is the number one river for biodiversity in the United States. Although the river is recognized for its diversity, it is in dire need of protection.

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Team Estonoa will initiate and coordinate projects that improve the Wetlands Estonoa environment and educate the community concerning the importance of watershed management regarding our water resource—Clinch River.

Team Estonoa has and will continue to develop a learning center on a wetlands area located in the center of St. Paul, VA.  The center will promote the study of a wetlands ecosystem and encourage the preservation of a natural resource.  Local citizens, students from St. Paul High School and Elementary School, as well as individuals from neighboring counties will have access to the Wetlands Estonoa Learning Center.

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