Getting their feet wet for science

December 21, 2011

A student measures the width of Tannery Brook.Students examine Tannery Brook.

Tannery Brook begins just north of HCC, in a beaver pond, flows past the Campus Center and continues south, past Fire Station Number 6, the Holyoke Maintenance garage, veering around the Holyoke Mall and through property owned by the Sisters of Saint Joseph the Provider, finally entering the Connecticut River at an urban farm called Nuestras Raices.

This fall, students in HCC Prof. Steven Winters' Introduction to Geology class studied Tannery Brook from its headwaters to its mouth, analyzing the dynamics of the watershed, the impact of urbanization on the brook and the possibility of a establishing a greenway along its banks.

"We're studying Tannery Brook past, present and future," said Winters.

The project was conducted through HCC's Service Learning Program, which seeks to engage students in community-based projects to deepen their understanding of the course curriculum.

"The project was very hands-on, which is the best way to learn, especially in science," said student Dario Serra, whose group studied the impact of urbanization on Tannery Brook.

Throughout the semester, the class made multiple field trips to nine sites along the 2.5-mile-long brook, making visual observations, taking measurements and analyzing water samples. They also conducted historical research on the brook and used existing data from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to inform their conclusions.

"Urbanization is never really a good thing," said Serra. "If everyone can get together and contribute, it can only improve the overall health and well-being of Tannery Brook."

The students presented their findings at two mini-conferences Dec. 14th and 16th whose guests included representatives from their community partners in the project--the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Sisters and Saint Joseph the Provider and the Trustees of Reservations.

"I think the great thing about this is that the students started out just taking an environmental science class and in the process became student researchers," said Lisa Mahon, coordinator of the Service Learning Program.

Students reported that Tannery Brook was originally called Riley's Brook, after one of the first settlers in Holyoke. In the 1800s, the brook was sold to a man named Humeston, a tanner, and its water used in the tanning process. Thus, the stream became known as Tannery Brook. The brook drains 1,400 acres of land and over the centuries its watershed has been intensively urbanized. "The brook has been diverted, culverted, piped under ground, turned, moved, cemented and riprapped," said student Lillian Coleman.

Presenters made suggestions on how to reduce the effects of urbanization on Tannery Brook, such as inspecting septic systems, using organic road salts and pesticides, fixing leaks, reducing litter, and using permeable pavement during contruction.

"HCC does plan to change the tennis courts into additional parking," said Tiranose Vyce, "and we think it would be a good opportunity to use permeable pavement."

David Morin's group proposed establishing a greenway along portions of the brook, including on the HCC campus. The group's plan includes tearing up parking lot S and the tennis courts and replacing them with grass, pathways, small treess, benches, a sundial, picnic tables, a fountain and student gardens. The loss in parking would be made by building a campus parking garage on lot R.

"I think it would be a great benefit to the students to have a field area where they can kick back, study and listen to music," said Morin, who also sits on the Student Senate. "It's not necessarily something that will happen, but it could happen."  

Photos: Students in Prof. Steven Winters Introduction to Geology class study Tannery Brook.


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040