ROCK HILL, S.C. - While most college students were sleeping on a Saturday morning in March, 15 Winthrop University students arrived at Santee National Wildlife Refuge in Summerton, S.C. to begin what would be a day filled with learning…and working.
Sociology Professor April Gordon said she wanted to introduce her students to the natural world and an area that she loves.
Their day started with a presentation by Refuge Manager Marc Epstein. Students learned of the history of the Santee River, the Santee Cooper project that created the lake system, how the refuge was established by Congress in 1941, and many landscape changes that will be influencing wildlife and their habitats in the future.
Next, the students were assigned to a variety of projects that included painting, installing split rail fence, landscaping and cleaning up the shoreline of the refuge.
Although some students were afraid of the wolf spiders and earthworms in the mulch, everyone was in awe at the sighting of a bald eagle.
"This experience has been one I will never forget. I learned a lot about the purposes of wildlife refuges and that a lot more goes into maintaining a facility like this than just having the land and ensuring the area is maintained for public use," said Felicia Boulware, an environmental studies major from Fort Lawn, S.C. "There is a tremendous behind the scenes effort by the staff and their dedicated volunteers. I greatly appreciate their hard work and dedication to maintaining one of South Carolina's most important ecosystems."
Psychology major Anthony Ramicone from Elgin, S.C., added:
"It was rather interesting building a fence, but the time seemed to pass quickly and the work was a lot less difficult than I had anticipated. Thinking about one guy having to build that fence put into perspective the commitment that it takes to regulate the entire reserve with only six or so people. Their job seems as if it will only get more difficult in the near future."
Wildlife officials said so many things were accomplished, thanks to the students and Dr. Gordon. “They jumped right in while listening to the instructions given by staff. It was a great day and a great accomplishment for everyone involved," Epstein said.
The Santee National Wildlife Refuge is made up of four units along the northern shore of Lake Marion. Each unit of the refuge provides visitor opportunities for hiking, bicycling, wildlife observation and wildlife photography.
Epstein added: “The refuge is hoping this will be a long-lasting relationship with Winthrop University. These students represent a large segment of our future and the investment with them now will be well worth it years from now.”