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Students from the Pulaski County Future Farmers of America and agriculture department have been hard at work, teaming up with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to work on two projects that benefit local waterways and fisheries.


Wednesday, the program hosted DWR guests to present their progress. In attendance were Regional Fisheries Biologist Jeffrey Williams and District Fisheries Biologist Kristen Chestnut-Faull.


The first project has the class taking over a project formerly operated by Virginia Tech. The students have been growing the Virginia Native Valisnerria Americana (Eel Grass), which has been planted in Claytor Lake. When Virginia Tech retired from the program, the Pulaski County students took over.


“The class has two ‘grow tables’ set up in the greenhouse with growing material and water,” Ag Teacher Mrs. Carley Pavan-Ballard said. “One table uses coconut fiber as the growing medium. The second uses a moisture of sand and soil. Seeds are harvested in September and have to go through a cold stratification period to get them ready to germinate in the spring. Our first successful planting was in June 2022 at Claytor Lake. We plan to plant again this summer/fall.”


Why is growing Ell Grass and adding it to Claytor Lake important?


Years ago, Claytor Lake saw a rise in the growth of hydrilla, an invasive plant that threatened to choke out the native Eel Grass that fish use for cover, concealment, and food at times. A fish known as grass carp were introduced to the lake with the hopes that they would, in their life cycle, eat the hydrilla and remove it as a problem. The grass carp that were released into the lake were sterile, ensuring that they would not reproduce. Unfortunately, as the grass carp ate all of the hydrilla and then everything else in their path, leaving the lake with little to no cover for the other fish. That loss of plant life can also cause a drop in oxygen levels in the water, causing stress for the fish.


Students from the Pulaski County ag program planted their initial batch of classroom grown Eel Grass successfully, but more is needed. The students continue to grow the grass and will plant it at the right time. In January, the class received word that they had been awarded the Mossback Fish Habitat Grant through B.A.S.S. Nation. The project has also received support from AEP, Friends of Claytor Lake, and Claytor Lake State Park.trout


The second project involves growing trout that will later be released into nearby waterways. The students have a fish aquarium in the agriculture classroom that is currently the home for the 87 Brook Trout, which are scheduled to be released April 24. Previous classes have also successfully released Brook Trout into nearby streams.


The students also took time to give the DWR representatives a tour of the Sensory Trail, located behind Pulaski County High School. In addition to the Ell Grass and Brook Trout, the ag students have also been busy preparing for their annual spring plant sale through their on-campus store, Pat’s Patch. Current plans are for that sale to take place shortly before Mother’s Day.