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UNC Faculty Provide Expertise, Student Involvement in Local Environmental Efforts

Scott Franklin and students researching in the river pre-COVID

April 9, 2021

Colorado is known for its natural beauty and efforts in maintaining its natural and open spaces. Community involvement runs deep at the University of Northern Colorado where campus community members are often involved in volunteering efforts and more.

As Earth Day approaches on April 22 this year (view events), four UNC faculty members share current efforts that they are involved in as well as how they involve their students: 

Top: Students collecting data to assess restoration success following the fire and 2013 flood along the Little Thompson River. The students were from two field classes (Geology and Biology) working together in June 2019.

Poudre Heritage Alliance 

UNC Geography, GIS, and Sustainability Professor Jessica Salo, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., as well as Assistant Professor of Environmental Geoscience Sharon Bywater-Reyes, Ph.D., are all on the Poudre Heritage Alliance’s board.  

Salo, Romulo, and Bywater-Reyes focus on getting local communities involved in efforts to protect, become educated and promote grants regarding the Poudre River Watershed. 

According to the Poudre Heritage Alliance’s website, the goal is to “serve the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, providing current and future generations the opportunity to understand and celebrate the area by careful planning and facilitation of educational programs and related amenities in collaboration with residents, private sector and government entities. 

“We’re getting things done where you can make real change in the community,” Romulo said. “We’re applying our efforts with local managers and, in the case of the heritage alliance, culturally, as well. We go to the meetings and apply our expertise to needs that have real impacts in the community in terms of natural resources.”

Jessica Salo
Jessica Salo

Chelsie Romulo
Chelsie Romulo

Sharon Bywater-Reyes
Sharon Bywater-Reyes

The faculty members emphasize how they get their students involved in volunteering and research activities, as well. For example, last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, students in Bywater-Reyes’ Geomorphology course made observations of local rivers accessible to them during Colorado’s Stay-at-Home order, which were then compiled into a Map Tour online, using ESRI’s mapping tool, Story Map.  

Salo has collected GIS data and created maps to support the development of a Strategic Interpretative Plan for the Cache la Poudre Natural Heritage Area. To further support this effort, a GIS intern from UNC will be hired this summer to produce public-facing, web-based maps designed to increase public awareness of the heritage area’s resources, environmental programming, conservation efforts, ecological diversity and significant history and historic properties.  

Also, in the fall 2020 semester, students in Bywater-Reyes’ Geoscience Field Issues course assisted her in studying river restoration and management along the Cache la Poudre River from Fort Collins to Greeley. They utilized drone imagery to create 3D models of the sites and studied how sediment, channel form and riparian vegetation are impacted by different restoration and management strategies.

View a video of their research efforts: 

“We apply the teacher-scholar model to practicing research in the community and provide connections between research, the community and our students,” Bywater-Reyes said. “People may feel as if UNC is separate from the larger community of Greeley and Weld County, but in reality, there are lots of folks who are passionately involved.” 

Get Greeley Outdoors 

Community involvement does not stop there. Another effort involves Bywater-Reyes, Romulo and Scott Franklin, Ph.D., a professor of Biological Sciences at UNC, being part of the steering committee in the City of Greeley’s Get Outdoors Greeley strategic plan for natural areas, open lands and trails.  

According to the city’s website regarding the plan, “Adopted in February 2021, the Get Outdoors Greeley strategic plan provides a five-year strategic framework for natural areas, open lands, and trails throughout Greeley. The plan lays out goals, objectives, and a work plan for future acquisition, restoration, long-term stewardship, capital projects, and sustainable funding of priority conservation areas and visitor infrastructure. 

Scott Franklin
Scott Franklin

Franklin, Bywater-Reyes and Romulo joined the steering committee to lend their expertise in ecology, hydrology and natural-resource planning. The plan emphasizes stewardship, sustainable management and connections to community and nature, which are the City of Greeley's priorities in developing its open-space areas. 

“An important part of planning requires data,” Franklin wrote. “In the fall of 2020, the UNC General Ecology class took point data on several exotic species in a couple of newer natural areas, and that spatial data will be used for planning mitigation strategies."

“We’ve had a substantial influence with this project in terms of the effectiveness of getting things moving in the right direction within the Greeley community,” Romulo said.  

2021 Earth Day Events at UNC

  • 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, April 15, Michener Library: Plastic Info: Earth Guardians is collecting plastic bags for an art piece focused on plastics and wildlife. Drop off your plastic bags and sign up to help build a collaborate art piece later in the month.
  • 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, April 16, University Center Tables: Project M.E. Packs involves free menstrual kits and raising awareness of the sustainable alternatives.
  • 2 p.m. Saturday, April 17, Greeley Arc: Come Thrifting with Earth Guardians
  • Sunday, April 18-Friday, April 23, University Center: Oral Waste collection: Donate your oral waste.
  • 2 p.m. Monday, April 19, Tree 1 at west side of Gunter Hall: Central Campus tree tour with Professor Scott Franklin.
  • 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 20, outside of Michener Library and Butler-Hancock: UNC's Grounds team, with assistance from the Arbor Day Foundation, will plant crab apple trees in honor of Arbor Day and in memory of Joey Rogers.
  • 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, Tree 1 by Ross Hall's main entrance: West Campus tree tour with Pat McDonald.
  • Noon-3 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, Michener Library: Tie-dye using eco-friendly dyes and food scraps (shirts provided).
  • Thursday, April 22, Michener Library: Plastic Art Reveal representing the impact of plastic on animal life after Student LEAF and Student Senate hosted a trash pick-p competition around campus.
  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, April 22, University Center Tables: Earth Guardian Giveaway
  • Noon-3 p.m. Friday, April 23, Marcus Garvey Lawn: Food for Thought (free food): Each year, Earth Guardians turn traditional cultural dishes into plant-based meals. This year, highlights will include southern food and passing out free to-go boxes with vegan chicken, a side and a slice of peach cobbler.

Learn more on how to get involved: 

Visit UNC Engage to view all volunteer opportunities through UNC

—Written by Katie Corder 

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