It's not every competition in which you spend a good part of your day in a hole -- and are glad about it.
"They actually get to go down into an eight-foot soil pit and get in there and figure out soil levels and all kinds of things," said Kevin Pauley, public information specialist with the West Virginia Soil Conservation Agency.
Pauley was speaking of the state Envirothon competition, which wraps up today at Jackson's Mill 4-H Conference Center in Lewis County. Thirty-three five-student teams from around the state are competing for a top spot that will send them to international competition in Nova Scotia, Canada, this summer.
In addition to soils, the teams are being tested, on paper and in the field, on wildlife, aquatics, forestry, and one topical issue, which is wetlands this year.
"We have a lot of natural resources in this state," said Pauley.
"Envirothon really gets our students to understand that they can make a difference to the environment ... If they decide to pursue it as a career -- that's just icing on the cake."
At least one team leader has seen a few of her team members use the environmental training received in Envirothon preparation as a springboard for a career in natural resources.
Lynn Lechner, a Lincoln High School teacher who leads two Harrison County teams, said one team member has a full scholarship to study agricultural education at West Virginia University. A former team member is studying forestry at Glenville State College, as well.
The discipline involved in Envirothon is certainly good preparation for college and working environments, she said.
Her teams supplement Envirothon preparation materials with movies, books and Internet searches.
"You know that you're going to be asked questions about soils," Lechner said of the broad study required for each subject.
"But, you don't just know what direction the questions are going to go."
She believes Envirothon is also excellent preparation for major life skills -- teamwork and problem solving.
In problem solving, for example, Lechner said the wetland question that will decide the championship could be something related to a chemical spill which occurred on U.S. Rt. 50 a couple years ago.
"That would be a good one," Lechner said.
"You could say, 'you have a spill into a wetland area and this is the chemical and this is the equipment you have, this is the topography. How do you solve this problem?' "
Environmental awareness is also a key component of Envirothon, both Lechner and Pauley said.
"As kids are increasingly living in small towns instead of rural areas, they lose contact with nature," Lechner said. "This just helps them stay connected with the environment."
A number of regional teams are among those connecting this year through Envirothon competition. They are:
Upshur County Future Farmers of America and Buckhannon-Upshur Ecoteens from Buckhannon-Upshur High School; Philip Barbour High School; Elkins High School Natural Resources and Elkins High School Environmental Awareness Club; Tygarts Valley High School Conservation Club; Lincoln High School FFA Senior Team and Lincoln High School FFA Junior Team; Lewis County High School; Gilmer County High School; Liberty High School FFA; and Robert C. Byrd High School Eagles.
Registration packets will soon be available for teams to prepare for the 2001 competition. Teams need not be associated with a school. For more information, call toll-free at 1-800-682-7866.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.