Joe Boswell of the Virginia Department of Forestry shows a “quiz tree” at the forestry station.

On a cool, drizzly morning in April, over 50 eighth graders from Botetourt County gathered for Envirothon, a natural resources competition organized by Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District at Greenfield Park.

Thirteen teams from Central Academy Middle School and Read Mountain Middle School competed in this field-oriented, community-based program where students work collaboratively to share their knowledge of natural resources and to solve problems in an outdoor setting.

Teams rotated through five stations, each focusing on a different natural resources topic.  Students showcased their knowledge of soils, forestry, aquatics, wildlife, and agricultural stewardship. Station judges included representatives from the Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Mountain Castles SWCD.

“A Read Mountain Middle School team walked away with the highest score and bragging rights, but really all the students are winners,” said Tim Miller, the education coordinator for Mountain Castles SWCD. “It’s great when teachers are willing to bring their students outside to learn about natural resources, especially on such a chilly day.”

Miller worked with teams from both middle schools to help students prepare for the competition. Jennifer Hannah coached the Central Academy teams, while Ronda Malcolm and Joyce Mandeville assisted Read Mountain. “Envirothon is actually designed as a high school competition, so it really says something when middle school students are willing to take it on.” said Miller.

Next year, Miller hopes to have high school teams, too. “Hopefully, some of the competitors from this year will recruit some friends and come back as ninth graders,” he said.

Envirothon is an annual competition sponsored by the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts with financial support from Dominion Resources.