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Herkimer BOCES conservation students gain
hands-on experience cutting willows for local projects

Oct. 6, 2015

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES students in the new conservation program recently cut 450 willow stakes on BOCES property to be used locally for erosion control.

Conservation student Emily Ingalls, 17, a senior of Mount Markham, liked knowing the willow stakes would be used by local landowners.

“It’s nice helping the community out,” she said. “I’ve always liked helping people.”

Gerry Smithson, district manager of the Herkimer County Soil and Water Conservation District, visited conservation program instructor Christopher Ambra’s junior and senior classes on Tuesday, Oct. 6, to explain how willow stakes are used for erosion control and to help them cut willows at Herkimer BOCES.

The former Herkimer BOCES natural resource management program was split this year into a conservation program and a heavy equipment operations program in order to further focus the programs on students’ interests and local industry needs.

During his presentation to students, Smithson talked about previous projects that have been done using willow stakes such as a large floodwater project in Dolgeville and an effort to protect natural resources on a farm.

The Herkimer County Soil and Water Conservation District has been working with Herkimer BOCES students to collect willow stakes on BOCES property for about a decade now, Smithson said. Of the 450 stakes Herkimer BOCES students cut this year, 150 are for a Hamilton County stream job, 50 to 75 are to go along a tributary that empties into the West Canada Creek in Herkimer County and the rest will be used for stabilization at a stream-crossing for an agriculture project, he said.

Smithson explained to students that the stakes grow better if they are planted with the right side up, so he asked them to cut at a 45-degree angle on the bottom of the stakes and to cut them flat at the top. He also asked for the stakes to be 2 feet long and bundled in groups of 25.

Smithson said it helps students to first hear his presentation and then do the work.

“Then you come out here and get your hands dirty and actually cut the willows,” he said. “It really makes for a better experience overall for the kids.”

When discussing one of the previous projects, Smithson referenced working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Department of Agriculture to reinforce that various conservation jobs are out there.

“It shows the kids they’re not here just to be here,” he said. “There are jobs in this field – and kind of fun jobs where you’re not always behind a desk.”

Ambra also pointed out to the students that Smithson had asked them to work in groups, an essential employability skill, and how he has been collaborating with other organizations.

“It’s critical that you can work in a group as part of a team,” Ambra said to the students.

Ambra said he wants students in the conservation program to truly understand what preservation and conservation are about – including finding the balance among wildlife, habitat and the general public. The willow cutting supports their conservation education, can be used toward the work-based-learning hours they require for graduation and shows them a way conservation can be applied in the community.

“It’s one thing to present it to them; it’s another to see it in the real world,” he said.

Ingalls said she found Smithson’s presentation interesting. She’s not sure what she wants to go to college for, so it was good to hear more about the field – and about the willow-stake planting process, she said.

“It’s pretty cool that you can get a tree just from putting a stick in the ground,” she said.

She also enjoyed the process of collecting the willow stakes and having the groups of students work as a team.

“It’s pretty fun,” she said. “We actually all enjoy it. We’d rather be out here than be inside all day.”

Conservation student Ryan Jones, 16, a senior of Poland, said he enjoys being part of the Herkimer BOCES program because hands-on learning experiences such as the willow cutting allow you to discover what it’s like to work in the career field you’re interested in.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “You definitely get a lot more opportunities and get a better idea of what you’re actually doing than you do in school.”

He also said he likes knowing that the willows will be used to benefit others in the community.

“It’s great to have that feeling that you’re actually helping,” he said.

Conservation students cut and collect willows
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES conservation program students cut and collect willow stakes on Tuesday, Oct. 6, on Herkimer BOCES property. Pictured here, in front, students Emily Ingalls and Ryan Jones bundle willow stakes. In back, from left to right, students Nathan Case, Brendon Raux, Jessie Moore and Matthew Doti cut willows. The 450 willow stakes collected by Herkimer BOCES students will be used by the Herkimer County Soil and Water Conservation District for local projects.

Carrying willow stakes
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES conservation program student Brendan Raux (front, center) carries willow stakes on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Herkimer BOCES. Students Jessie Moore (back, left) and Matthew Doti (back, right) cut down willows to be bundled up for use by the Herkimer County Soil and Water Conservation District on local projects.

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