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NATURE NOTES - Number 12 January 14, 2021
Our current topic: Watersheds
Watersheds are a fairly simple concept in nature and geography, but scouts don’t seem to grasp the idea quickly. I have found an easy way to explain watersheds is with a simple bowl. The bowl is like a watershed. If you set the bowl out in the rain or snow, the precipitation that falls WITHIN the rim of the bowl flows down the sides to the bottom of the bowl. The rain falling outside the bowl goes somewhere else. Eventually all of the water will settle in the bottom of the bowl. If you punch a hole in the bottom of the bowl, the water drains out. This is the same with a watershed. The rim is the high ground (maybe a ridge top, or maybe just a subtle rise in relatively flat ground) that marks the upper boundary of the watershed. All the precipitation that falls within this rim flows downhill and into the lowest place in the watershed, usually a stream. That stream will drain out of the watershed into another larger watershed that collects many “bowls”. Scouts seem to relate to this. Try it. At least two merit badges (Soil and Water Conservation and Forestry) require a discussion of watersheds and for the scout to explain his local watershed. What is also interesting to scouts is the connection of local watersheds to streams and rivers downstream. The BRMC is quite unique here. Within the council, there are 6 rivers that handle the drainage of watersheds in our council area: (1) To the north, the James River drains to the Chesapeake Bay; (2) in the center, the Roanoke River drains to Albemarle Sound in NC; (3) in the west, the New River drains to the Gulf of Mexico (THIS is a real eye opener to most scouts! And many adults.); (4) in the far west, the Holstein River flows into the Tennessee River to the Gulf as well; (5) to the south, the Dan River drains into the Roanoke/Staunton River and into NC; and (6) a very small area in Carroll County that flows south into the Yadkin/Pee Dee Rivers in NC.
You can always expand a watershed discussion to include the downstream impact of pollution, the impact of heavy rain in one area on flooding in another area, how streams and rivers provided early settlers with routes through the mountains, and how they influenced the growth of cities along the way.
Now, think what you can do with a good map (road maps will do in many cases, but topo maps are much better) of your area. Find the rivers. Find the rims. Any map reading skills needed here? Also you might point out that there are numerous signs along our roads that show, as an example, “You are now entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” (along I-81 north of Roanoke near Buchanan). Trace the route of water from your local watershed to the ocean. I bet you learn something.
If you are at one of our camps, start with the stream running into the lake and look at the rim of the ridges around camp. The dam drain pipe acts as that hole in the bottom of the bowl. Out of the hole the stream continues to flow on to the New River (via Mack’s Creek at Powhatan and the Little River at Ottari) picking up other streams as it goes and draining other watersheds. It should be easy to find some examples of watersheds in you specific areas. If you are on a hike and cross over a ridge line, point out how rain falling “over here” goes this way, and rain falling “over there” goes that way. They will pick it up. This is easier now that the bare trees allow better views of the terrain.
Good luck!!! Now go figure out which watershed you are in. You might be surprised.
Send me an email by January 31 and tell me how you are using NATURE NOTES in your unit. I’ll pick the best reply and send you a useful nature prize and will also let others know your winning idea. Include your mailing address in the email. Looking forward to hearing from you.
UNIVERSITY OF SCOUTING:
I will be leading a block on “Teaching Nature” at the April University of Scouting at Camp Powhatan. If you want to learn more about this, please sign up. I’d be glad to share my experiences with you.