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Knowledge of nature put to test

Citrus High School junior Lisa Cockrell, 17, remembers handling a snake at the Nature Coast Envirothon last year at Saint Leo College in Pasco County.

"It was a really big snake," she said.

Snakes, fish, trees, algae, soil, water, birds and mammals. Questions about a variety of animals and environmental resources will test the knowledge of dozens of five-member teams of high school students from four counties when they come together today for the 1997 Nature Coast Envirothon.

"I did it last year," said Lisa, the wildlife expert of her team. She recalled questions about the difference between adult and what she called sub-adult turkeys and between kinds of fish and algae.

She said participants touched the algae to help them with their decisions. "It was gross, but really neat," she remembered.

Citrus County will host this year's event at Fort Cooper State Park. Students from Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Sumter counties will compete for the $2,500 scholarship prize.

To prepare for the competition, all registered teams receive information packets covering the six test areas: soils, forestry, aquatics, wildlife, water resources and ecosystem management.

Sarah Thomas, also a 17-year-old junior, will go with Lisa to the Envirothon, but on a different team. The girls and their teammates have been studying for nearly two months.

"We study every Monday and Wednesday after school, and we have a really big book to study," Sarah said. "I'm really looking forward to doing it. I think you learn a lot."

Sarah was the soil expert on last year's team. She learned how to test a soil sample's acidity and remembered questions about ecological communities in soil. She also learned how to use a water-depth tester.

Lisa agrees that the event is a learning experience. "I'm really looking forward to doing animals this year," Lisa said, "because I want to learn more."

Patty Martin, Citrus High's agriculture teacher and sponsor of the school's four teams, is enthusiastic about her students' possibilities at this event.

"They get to learn. They get to apply. They get to compete," Martin said. She thinks it is great that professionals in various industries provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge.

The Envirothon experience goes beyond academics, though.

"We had a lot of fun after the tests," Lisa said. "We had food, played volleyball, and we got to meet a lot of people."

"It ties everything in," Sarah said. "It gives us a day out in the community. I think it's really fun."