St. Agatha student plants 50 pine trees

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, September 3, 2019

This summer, Alec Skinner planted 50 white pines in Estill County.

The reforestation project was something Skinner, a seventh grader at St. Agatha Academy, had been thinking about for a couple of years. He had been visiting Camp Burnamwood since he was 3 years old, and over the years, he’s seen the tree population near Snake Island dwindle.

Every year he would return and there would be fewer and fewer trees, mostly in part to some pesky beavers, Skinner said.

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“The beavers start taking out trees a couple of years ago,” Skinner said. “They started coughing them up in a drainage pipe that leads into two other lakes. So the water flowed and killed off more trees. But they would cut down more trees, block it up again. And it repeated.”

Thankfully, the forestry is trapping and relocating the beavers, Skinner said, but they wouldn’t have liked a mouthful of sap from his newly-planted white pines anyway.

“I went out there and planted about 50 white pines because they won’t like a mouthful of sap,” Skinner said.

After he planted the trees, with the help of his dad, the National Forest Service and more, Skinner said he felt accomplished.

“Instead of sitting around talking about it, I went out and did it,” he said.

Skinner checks on his white pines every chance he gets; he’s excited to see how much they will have grown in a few years, he said.

“Soon, about 20 years, the Earth is going to be terrible because of pollution,” Skinner said. “Trees can… filter water pollution, and they can they also filter air pollution. And if we don’t stop killing trees in the next 20 years, it might not ever be able to be fixed.”

The actual research and work of the project began shortly after Skinner joined the Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences Academy last year.

The NRESci Academy is a three-year program designed to teach youth about their natural environment. In the program, scholars participate in hands-on investigations to learn about Kentucky’s water, forest, entomology and wildlife resources, according to its website.

Skinner said his mom told him about the academy, and he loves all things science, so it seemed like a good fit.

“It’s always been my favorite subject,” Skinner said.

He first fell in love with science while learning to cook with his parents at an early age.

“I just wanted to figure out how this does this during this,” Skinner said. “So I started researching things and bam, science.”

Each year of the three-year program, scholars participate in a variety of field exercises, such as stream sampling, forest measurement data collection, wildlife survey and insect collection and identification and interact with natural resources professionals, according to its website.

“When I joined I thought I pretty much knew it all, but I didn’t,” Skinner said. “There’s always something else to learn.”

Scholars also have the opportunity to visit natural areas throughout the Commonwealth, and learn about the diverse natural resources in the state.

Skinner, 13, presented his project about the reforestation at Camp Burnamwood Aug. 21 at the Kentucky State Fair.

“It was interesting,” Skinner said of the experience. “Everyone else that had a project and presented brought all these fancy things to attract people. But I did what mattered to me.”

Outside of the academy, Skinner said he likes to read. He is also involved with the cooking club and junior leadership in 4-H. He also volunteers at the Liberty Nature Center. Over the summer, he had the opportunity to job shadow employees at Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies.

“I learned penguins are not cute little fluff balls,” Skinner said of the job shadow experience. “In their container… it sounded like 10 people were scratching their nails on a chalkboard while donkeys were eating harmonicas.”

Skinner said his favorite area of study in science is biology. He hopes to work with and research animals one day.

But in the meantime, Skinner said he hopes people learn a little something from his project. He also hopes to plant more trees in the future, and hopes other people will too.

Skinner said the academy has changed him, and he looks forward to his next two years in the program.

“I look at everything from a different perspective,” he said.

He said there are only a handful of other Clark Countians in the academy, but he encourages other students to join.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the environment, and we should really learn about the environment because we’re still, even with all the technology, we’re still part of nature,” Skinner said. “So we need to learn how to take care of it.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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