In the News

Fairfax County EQAC Environmental Excellence Award, 2014

PEREC has been recognized by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council with the organizational award for the dedication of “time and energy to benefit the environment and support county environmental goals and initiatives.”

View all of the award winners on the Fairfax County website.

In the News

George Mason Program Minimizes Pollution in Potomac and Chesapeake, and Educates Kids

Originally published in the Washington Post Blogs, June 12, 2012

Flushing: We all do it, mostly without any thought beyond the pipe leading away from our home. But if you follow what spirals out of sight down a toilet or household drain, the end of the line for that human wastewater is the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay for a large portion of Fairfax County residents. In the 1960s, the Potomac was green from the algae and bacteria of human sewage and storm runoff.

Piloting an open-top fishing boat out to designated monitoring locations, Chris Jones, the director of George Mason University’s Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC), monitors today’s wastewater as it re-emerges from pipes and rejoins natural space in Gunston Cove. The center has been working to clean up the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay since 1980. [end of excerpt]

Read the full article on the Washington Post website.

In the News

Virginia Mathematics & Science Coalition 2012 “Programs that Work” Award Winner

Virginia Mathematics & Science Coalition 2012 “Programs that Work” Award Winner with Prince William County Schools. VMSC recognizes exemplary mathematics, science, and integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for which there is evidence of a positive impact on student or teacher learning.

In the News

PEREC Cited as Business Partner of the Year for Prince William County Public Schools

Originally published on the Prince William County Public Schools website, May 19, 2011

Chesapeake Bay Education Partners and the Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) Office of Science and Family Life EducationChesapeake Bay Education Partners with School Board members: Superintendent Walts, representatives of Alice Ferguson Foundation, George Mason University, E.A.G.L.E. project, Forest Service, and Sharon Henry

The Chesapeake Bay Education Partners (which includes the Alice Ferguson Foundation, the George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, Manassas National Battlefield, Occoquan Bay U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and Prince William Forest National Park) work together to support Prince William County’s environmental education program, “From the Mountains to the Estuary: From the Schoolyard to the Bay.” The partnership provides meaningful watershed experiences for thousands of students, aligned with existing curriculum objectives already taught in the classroom. (The partnership was nominated by Joy Greene, E.A.G.L.E. project coordinator.)

In the News

Mason Offers Local Students a Hands-On Environmental Experience

Originally published in The Mason Gazette, April 28, 2011
by Ashley Moss

Seventh grade students from Cooper Middle School gathered at Lake Fairfax in Reston, Va., on April 14 for a series of hands-on science experiments designed to get insight on human impacts on local nature and wildlife. The 130 students worked with a county school science specialist, Mason students and staff from the Potomac Environment Research and Education Center (PEREC) on an outdoor experience called Testing the Waters.

PEREC is a vital part of the university’s Potomac Science Center. Its main purpose is to increase our understanding and stewardship of local ecosystems, watersheds and landscapes through research and teaching local students and communities.

PEREC education program with K-12 students
Seventh grade students from Cooper Middle School learn about the watershed on a beautiful spring day. Photos by Nic Tan.

Testing the Waters is part of a larger set of PEREC initiatives that provide meaningful watershed educational experiences for students in Fairfax County and Prince William County Public Schools; the initiative is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In this year alone, nearly 10,000 secondary school students will participate in these educational programs.

Lake Fairfax is a Fairfax County park that spans more than 400 acres and includes several relatively pristine streams. It is prime for student research and learning.

“These experiments tell how healthy the lake is,” says Cindy Smith, education director for PEREC. The students use knowledge they’ve gained from their science curriculum to further determine if a lake is polluted, Smith adds. Using handheld GPS units in the field and mapping programs back at school, students also examined their spatial connection to the Chesapeake Bay.

As interesting as the experiments are, it is the interaction with nature—especially the insect larvae and worms that live in the water–that excites the students the most. “It’s always something that you wouldn’t expect to be the highlight–that’s what thrills the kids,” says Smith. ”They have no idea these critters live here until they flip over a rock or two.”

Students used an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to see what lives in the streams.

The program includes a unique opportunity for Mason’s environmental science students to apply their classroom knowledge to extensive work as field scientists and interpreters. The opportunity also allows school-aged students a chance to apply some of the latest technology to studying local ecosystems.

“The purpose is to give students the opportunity to interact with nature and really examine their environment,” says Dann Sklarew, PEREC’s associate director and a professor of environmental science and policy at Mason.

“We hope that this kind of connection, over time,” Sklarew continues, “will be a way for us to instill a stewardship in our whole region and also that it will create enthusiasm for students who might be interested in coming to study environmental issues at Mason.”

In the News

PWCS Receives Commendation as Part of “Bridging the Watershed”

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B-WET Program Connects Students to the Chesapeake Bay

Originally published in the College of Science magazine Periodic Elements, Fall 2010.

Over the next three years or so, more than 30,000 Northern Virginia sixth-and seventh-grade students will pull on hip waders and sift through the muck along the banks of the Potomac River and nearby streams and ponds to discover what lives in and around the water. Guided by field interpreters — some volunteers, others who are College of Science environmental science interns or graduate students—the youngsters will check how much sediment is in the water, observe the kinds of animals that live in it, and monitor its pH, oxygen, and nitrate levels.

According to Dann Sklarew, associate director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) and an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, these students are receiving a “meaningful watershed educational experience” through PEREC’s collaboration with Prince William County and Fairfax County public schools and the Chesapeake Bay B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) program—a partnership that fosters stewardship of the bay through experiential education for middle school students and their teachers.

The Chesapeake Bay B-WET program, now eight years old, is the original of six regional B-WET programs supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Program applicants are eligible to receive as much as $200,000 a year for up to three years to fund a single project.

With additional support from the Alice Ferguson Foundation, National Geographic, and regional parks and refuges, PEREC and its partners are currently delivering two B-WET projects: “Spatially Connecting Kids to the Bay,” a project for more than 13,000 Fairfax County seventh graders, and “From the Mountains to the Estuary, From the Schoolyards to the Bay,” a project for nearly 19,000 Prince William County sixth-grade students. Both programs are currently underway through 2013, and pilot programs that reach high school students also are in the planning stages.

In the News

Keeping a Watchful Eye on Ecosystems

Originally published in the College of Science magazine Periodic Elements, Fall 2010

For nearly thirty years, Chris Jones and his colleagues Donald Kelso and — more recently — Dann Sklarew have been observing and studying the health of the Potomac River. The research of these Department of Environmental Science and Policy faculty members, as well as their collective vision of an on-the-water, hands-on science facility, was a major impetus in the founding three years ago of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC).

PEREC inherited several projects from the group, including their long-term study and monitoring of the ecosystems in Gunston Cove, a bay of the tidal Potomac in southern Fairfax County. Their observations, says Jones, PEREC’s director, has revealed evidence that “the efforts of Fairfax County and other jurisdictions in the area have resulted in a partial restoration of Gunston Cove.” The improvement comes despite the dramatic residential and business development in the Northern Virginia region. In this way, “PEREC has made a significant contribution to the area’s biodiversity and to Chesapeake Bay restoration,” Jones says. “We are learning that management efforts, if bold enough, can mitigate the impact of increased human populations on our natural ecosystems.”

PEREC’s most pressing issues, according to both Jones and Sklarew, PEREC’s associate director, are continued improvement of water clarity, which allows light to reach underwater vegetation, and restoration of aquatic vegetation, which provides a habitat for fish and other animals to nest or hide. Another priority is educating K- 12 students and science teachers in the region about watershed stewardship through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- supported Chesapeake Bay B-WET program.

PEREC’s endeavors with these students include “bringing technology into the classroom with live data,” says Cindy Smith, PEREC’s education director.

PEREC also provides a significant involvement for Mason’s environmental science students, and both undergraduate and graduate students work as field interpreters when the middle school students visit the outdoor labs. Smith points out that a number of retired Prince William County science teachers also work as field interpreters. “I love the people we work with,” she says. “It’s hard to have a bad day when you see how much fun they are having.”

In the News

Gone Fishing, Hopefully: Locals lead effort to restore area’s brook trout population

Originally published in the Burke Connections Newspaper, July 28th Issue
by Justin Fanizzi

Burke resident Duane Murphy longs for a time when a fisherman could walk to the nearest creek or stream, drop a lure and wait to catch one of the myriad trout swimming beneath the surface. With the help of Trout Unlimited of Northern Virginia, he may finally have his wish.

Murphy, a member of the Friends of Accotink Creek and 2010 recipient of Braddock District Citizen of the Year, has teamed up with Fairfax resident Kirk Smith to help restore the county’s creeks and streams to a level that is habitable for trout. While the project is still in its early stages, Murphy and others cannot help but be excited for its prospects.

“We’re so excited about the prospects of raising the level of the streams to support trout,” Murphy said. “It would increase the quality of life for so many local residents.”

According to Murphy, the push to bring trout back into the area originated with Fairfax resident Kirk Smith, a science teacher at James Madison High School in Vienna and a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University. Smith was brainstorming a project for his doctorate dissertation earlier this year, and being an avid fisherman, came up with the idea to restore the area’s brook trout population. Smith knew that areas such as Difficult Run in Fairfax had, as recently as 20 years ago, brook trout populations ample enough to fish without restrictions, so he knew the project was possible.

“I grew up fishing for brook trout in Fairfax County,” Smith said. “I knew they could live here.” Smith defined his proposal and reached out to Trout Unlimited, of which Murphy is the treasurer, for help on the project. The goal, Smith told Murphy, was to restore the population by identifying the streams or creeks that had, or could realistically have, ideal conditions for brook trout to flourish. Smith said that the best way to do this was to test local waters for temperature and acidity, but that he would not be able to perform all of the required tests himself to locate the “perfect” stream for his project.

So, while Smith began work at Nichol’s Run in Great Falls, Murphy enlisted the help of fellow Friends of Accotink Creek members to lend a hand in the southern part of the county. According to Murphy, he and his team helped by going out into the field and performing several tests on area streams to see if the temperature and chemical makeup of the water is suitable for trout. They measured the temperature of many local streams, including portions of the Lower Occoquan, Mason Neck, Gunston Cove and other tributaries, making sure that the temperature of the water was cold enough, as brook trout only thrive in colder water. In addition, Murphy and others tested the pH levels of the water to ensure that silt and other forms of runoff had not contaminated the water beyond repair.

In the News

Manassass students study wetlands on field trip

Originally aired April 2010 on 9NEWS NOW and
by Peggy Fox

They put on waders, grabbed nets and scooped up some gunk from the bottom of a pond.

“It’s gross, black and smelly,” said Jorden Gittens, a student at Bull Run Middle School.  When asked why he was smiling, he said, “Because it’s really fun,”

These middle school students from Prince William County are discovering all kinds of things live in the mucky water.

Matt Moore found a leech and a water nymph.

The field trip to Manassas Battlefield Park is run by George Mason University professors and students from the environmental studies program. [end of excerpt]

View the full video on the WUSA9 website.