Hurlburt Field stream splashes with big benefits

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Benjamin D. Kim
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Water sat idly in a grassy concavity as part of a subtle environmental backdrop where the silence occasionally broke by the hum and roar of passing vehicles. The discreet stream, fed by an artesian well found under the Hurlburt Field Housing office, rippled softly as aquatic wildlife boasted their presence while robust plant life surrounded the water. It's all just a disguise.

The Hurlburt Field Youth Center Wetland Stream Project transformed a small, desolate stream into a bustling ecosystem and learning environment at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

"The project's objective was to transform a degraded, wetland stream into an outdoor science classroom which would be used to teach school children and their families about the function of wetlands' habitat in the landscape," said Kristal Walsh, an environmental specialist with 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.

Walsh and Catherine Goss, an operations assistant of the Child Development Center West and youth center outdoor environment specialist and builder of the first Air Force outdoor classroom, teamed up for a special project with multi-faceted benefits for the Hurlburt Field community.

"Over the past year, we have transformed the north stream from a clogged up ditch to an intermittent flowing stream with many flora and fauna species," said Walsh. "The south conveyance was transformed into a wetland stream with many flourishing native plants like irises, soft needle rush and pickerel weed. Tadpoles and fish can now be seen easily on a daily basis."

The ultimate goal is to educate, military children and Airmen on some of the good that they can do and give them some ownership of the bases where they work and live, Goss said.

Goss developed detailed lesson plans that outline various aspects of monitoring, such as water quality sampling, species diversity and rainfall events.

"[The children from the youth center] see tadpoles and frogs and all these great things and that provide a great education project for the children," Goss said. "They'll get water samples and will catch a few tadpoles."

"This project is unique in that it educates the entire base community on wetlands science from the children and their parents, to active duty personnel and contract staff," Walsh said. "Frequent work days at the project sites solicit volunteer assistance frequently and children participate regularly with planting and clean-up."

The main goal of this project highlights a glaring issue of today's youth.

"It is important, in these highly technological times, to teach conservation practices at a young age and to integrate real, hands-on activities outside of the traditional classroom setting," Walsh said. "Children don't play outside any longer and they miss a huge opportunity to learn about nature or about how a certain habitat connects wildlife, sea life and even the trees around it."

Members of Hurlburt Field contributed to the restoration of the stream as the project gave back in educational resources and youth recreation. Like the subtlety of the project however, it gave back just a little more under the radar.

"The other goal is to provide Airmen an opportunity to do volunteer work--almost a therapeutic type work," said Goss. "A lot of these Airmen have been deployed and they've been under a lot of stress , and any time we need help with the stream, which is quite often with planting and clean-ups, we invite Airmen to come out and help. [The Airmen] tell us that they really enjoy it and it's very therapeutic because it takes them away from the other world that they live in."

Projects like these have consistently earned Hurlburt Field, the Tree City Growth Award each year for the past nine years, Walsh said. The Tree City Growth Award is a designation awarded by the Arbor Foundation for communities who consistently strive for environmental excellence and encourage continued achievements in urban forestry programs.

A simple environment fragment of Hurlburt Field sat as nothing more than just a stream--but it's a disguise. The restoration of that simple stream yielded resources and opportunities that benefitted the Hurlburt Field community, and the maintenance and preservation of the stream hope to continue that for years to come.