Getting excited about Envirothon

By Will Williams
Canon envirothon logo America’s and Canada’s brightest and best conservation-minded high school students are coming to Maryland in July to compete for scholarships, prizes, and the right to call themselves champions of the national Canon Envirothon, North America’s largest high school environmental competition. Many Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees will be on hand to train and test the problem-solving abilities of over 300 students on teams from 43 states and 8 Canadian provinces.

The annual Envirothon is administered in Maryland by the Association of Soil Conservation Districts and a state steering committee, as well as a group of resource professionals who train and test students in soils, forestry, wildlife, aquatics, and a current issues presentation topic. This year’s topic will be agricultural land preservation.

Envirothon started out as a local program in Pennsylvania in 1979 when three teams participated in the state’s first “Environmental Olympics.”

You can learn more about the national Canon Envirothon at To learn more about the Maryland Envirothon, check out the Maryland Department of Agriculture's website. To take a look at Envirothon study materials (Maryland is the first state to offer this innovative format) visit:

Join In...
Thinking about starting an Envirothon program at your school? Maryland’s 2003 National Envirothon website features event information, volunteer registration forms, host web cams and other “virtual” information so you can experience this year’s event firsthand. Visit Mount St. Mary's College website.

Eleven years later, the first Maryland Envirothon was held and in 1992, the state hosted the fifth national Envirothon at St. Mary’s College. Much has changed since then as corporate sponsorships, web-based training resources and more than $30,000 in scholarship monies have thrust Envirothon into the national conservation education spotlight.

From local to international…
More than 1,000 students from 92 high schools around the state receive training and instruction from soil scientists, foresters, wildlife biologists, stream ecologists, and planners to gain authentic Maryland-based insight on the opportunities and challenges they face in managing our natural resources. Five member teams apply this knowledge as they compete against one another in hands-on problem solving at countywide Envirothon events, which are usually held in April.

Winning teams from 20 counties will square off in June at the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center in Montgomery County for the opportunity to represent the state with an all-expenses paid trip to -- you guessed it, Maryland! -- for the 2003 Canon Envirothon.

An event of Olympic proportions…
When Maryland’s bid to host the 2003 Canon Envirothon was accepted, three years of Olympic-style planning were set into motion that will unfold July 26 through August 1 at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Frederick County. The beautiful campus was selected because of its natural setting, proximity to training and testing areas, and nearby recreational and historical sites.

Students, teachers and advisors from throughout the U.S. and Canada will enjoy Maryland hospitality and a showcase of our state’s diverse and abundant natural resources. For DNR’s resource professionals, hosting the Canon Envirothon represents a tremendous opportunity to highlight their work in cutting-edge conservation programs to an international audience of future natural resource managers and decision makers.

Making a difference for students and Maryland’s natural resources…
DNR Employee showing a soil sample to a student. Win or lose, the time spent working with professionals from DNR, local soil conservation districts, and conservation organizations helps Maryland students become better stewards of our natural resources. And in some cases, it has even helped shape career decisions.

Ray Bivens, an employee with DNR’s State Forest and Park Service, was part of a state champion Envirothon team at Joppatowne High School in 1992-1993. “Envirothon made a huge difference in helping me make a career choice… Of our five team members, I’m a naturalist, two are environmental science teachers, one is a forest ranger, and one is working on a PhD.”

Fellow Forest Service employee and Envirothon alumnus Chris Smith is always on hand to help with the forestry station at the county and state Envirothon competitions. She says, “It was great to learn about five different natural resource topics and see how they are related. Envirothon gave me a head start in studying forestry at Allegany College, because I already knew how to use forest measurement tools and identify species of trees.”

For Haley Carter, a 1996 graduate of Leonardtown High School in St. Mary’s County, Envirothon made quite an impact -- she now helps run the program through the St. Mary’s Soil Conservation District. “In class, you really don’t get to know what resource professionals do. With Envirothon, you get to know exactly what they do because you are working with them and learning. At the time we were all seniors and I wish that we would have had a few more years!”

And for Carl Dyson, another Leonardtown High School graduate, the program only confirmed a career choice he had already made. “After competing in the Envirothon, I was certain that I wanted to major in forestry. My experiences with the program put me one step ahead of my classmates at Virginia Tech.” Carl, who graduated at the top of his class and now works as a forester at the Patuxent Naval Air Warfare Center, gives back this expertise at the St. Mary’s Envirothon.

No sleep ‘till Emmitsburg…
After being whisked away by special shuttle buses from BWI airport, students and their teachers will begin a seven-day whirlwind of activities. Beginning with a parade of state flags and an opening ceremony featuring environmental entertainer Billy B, students will participate in intensive training sessions to learn Maryland-specific resource issues, visit local farms to get first hand insight into agricultural land preservation, stop by the nation’s capital, and learn how eat crabs on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park.

Teachers and faculty advisors will have as much to do as the students as they enjoy their own lineup of activities. Tours of historic Frederick, Gettysburg, local farms and vineyards, and a canoe trip will give the visiting adults a taste of the region, while volunteer “Team Buddies” will escort and supervise students through the rigors of training and testing sessions.

The actual competition day will be held at an off-campus undisclosed location near Camp David. Students will climb into a soil pit to identify soil types, collect forest management data such as tree volume and species identification, determine the ages of deer by examining jawbones, and list the types and numbers of organisms found in local streams. In addition, teams will develop an oral presentation about a real-life land preservation topic, the details of which will be unknown to the students until they are presented with the problem-solving scenario.

A three-year private fundraising effort has generated the nearly $250,000 needed to put on an event of this size. Donations, grants, corporate sponsorships, and funds raised by local soil conservation districts will pay for transportation, food, housing, study materials, equipment, and awards. Perhaps the best prize taken home by the students will be an appreciation of Maryland’s natural beauty from the Bay to the mountains, and knowledge gained from the men and women who have made it their life’s work to manage and protect our state’s natural resources.

Will Williams...
is an Education Specialist with the DNR Forest Service, has been a member of the Maryland Envirothon Steering Committee for over ten years and is a member of the 2003 National Envirothon Planning Committee. For more info, contact him at (410) 414-5905 or at

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