Franklin High students became active volunteers in a service-learning program this fall to improve the ecosystem along the Franklin Greenway.
More than 40 students, along with local community members, conducted a three-day site inventory and extraction of exotic invasive plants along two miles of the greenway in October.
Exotic invasive plants have seriously degraded the natural areas along the greenway. Exotic plants spread aggressively and monopolize light, nutrients and space to the detriment of native species. As a result, animals that rely on native plants for food and shelter also suffer losses.
“The worst exotic invasive plants change the character of entire ecosystems,” said Mary Bennett, Southwestern Community College’s GEAR UP College Readiness Coach.
Controlling exotic invasive plants is labor intensive, in this case requiring pulling, digging and chopping.
“It’s just plain hard work!” observed sophomore Clinton Anderson, who eagerly uprooted 10-foot-tall shrubs from the woods.
In addition to the manual labor, the program was coupled with classroom instruction, guest speakers and fieldwork exercises.
“Participating in a practical and hands-on activity while communicating with professionals enables the students to improve technical skills and job readiness while increasing their career awareness,” said Bennett.
Other groups participating in the project included Western North Carolina Alliance, Friend of the Greenway, Coweeta Hydrological Lab, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.
“The students really took to the responsibility of protecting the natural habitat and wanted to leave it in better shape,” said Franklin Agriculture Teacher Devon Deal.