Written by Jenny Hale & Maddie Gordon
It was the year 1999, you know, the year Prince made famous. A student, Stevie Sabo, needed a project for a high school ecology class and chose the small town pond that had recently become an illegal dumping ground. This work was followed up by another student, Nikki Buffalow, later that year. At this time, the local, man-made pond was officially certified as a wetlands. This discovery came at the beginning of a new century, a new era, the year 2000. This was also the beginning of an educational opportunity that continues 20 years later. Thanks to this discovery, local and national organizations were involved, and the one-time dumping ground became an internationally recognized wetlands. This recognition was obtained through the hard work and dedication of a group of individuals, known as Team Estonoa. This team was made up of a group of SPHS students who had an interest in ecology and preservation of something bigger than themselves. The leader of this team was none other than the Appalachian Ecology teacher who started it all, Mrs. Terry Vencil. The team has traveled the world teaching the importance of the preservation and protection of this natural wonder. The opportunity to teach others has been enhanced with the building of the Vencil Learning Center. The Center has hosted numerous environmental interest groups, educational teams as well as others.
Team Estonoa, which now encompasses both Wise and Russell County schools, has put the tiny town of St. Paul, Virginia on the map as an internationally known preservation site. Over the years, Team Estonoa has expanded its endeavors to include one of the world’s most biodiverse rivers, the Clinch River. Team Estonoa has been a vital part of reintroducing and monitoring freshwater mussels in the Clinch River, the drainage basin for Wetlands Estonoa. The Clinch River has gained national attention for its threatened and endangered inhabitants including freshwater mussels and darters. Team Estonoa provides assistance to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries by monitoring and releasing juvenile mussels into the Clinch River in the St. Paul area. Students monitor the growth of the juvenile mussels each month then eventually release them. This program is widely recognized and teaches students about the importance of protecting and preserving all waterways.
The team’s main focus has always been to promote the study of a unique ecosystem while encouraging the preservation of a natural treasure. Additionally, many of the students find refuge, develop skills necessary to become future leaders, and form everlasting friendships that withstand the test of time. This 20 year anniversary is not only a celebration of Team Estonoa’s environmental achievements, but a chance for all past and present members to come together. As a society, we stand on the shoulders of giants and Team Estonoa is no exception. Each new generation grows, learns and expands from generations past. Team Estonoa welcomes all community members to celebrate with us 20 years of students and volunteers advocating for a better future.
Mark your calendar for May 30th and spend the day with great friends and food celebrating another one of the region’s most valuable assets, Team Estonoa!
For more information on Wetlands Estonoa's beginnings, take a moment to read the Clinch Valley Times series of articles on their website. It's filled with photos and facts. Read here>