EWU Geology Summer Field Camp Rocks in Spite of Covid

August 25, 2021
geoscience students in the field

EWU’s Geology Field Camp, a capstone requirement that allows budding geologists to demonstrate what they’ve learned in the real world, was reinvented this summer in order to keep students healthy and safe.

Because the typical field camp requires interstate travel and shared lodging, universities across the nation cancelled their camps due to COVID concerns. Chad Pritchard, chair of EWU’s geosciences, wasn’t ready to pull the plug on Eastern’s annual event. Pritchard and his team put in long hours to create a 4-week camp that eliminated risky travel and adhered to best-practices for social distancing, all while providing 22 students with invaluable experiences in surveying, mapping, sample collection, analysis, reporting and more.

students collaborating at the prairie site
Geoscience students looked at soil infiltration rates and performed swale tests on the prairie site. Their work established baselines that will be crucial to the success of future plantings.

While previous EWU camps involved a trip to Dillon, Montana, this year’s camp was held closer to home. Instead of mapping bedrock in Dillion, students mountain biked, hiked and climbed to reach remote and less-accessible locations around the region, Pritchard says. Staying local also had the benefit of allowing other EWU organizations to pitch in to help. For a mapping project on Bonnie Lake, a lovely lowland body of water just south of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, EWU’s EPIC Adventures provided canoes to help. EPIC also provided transportation to Tower Mountain on the Cascade Crest and Spokane County’s historic Silver Hill Mine.

Additional projects included students using drones and legwork to map 200 acres of land recently acquired by the City of Cheney for wastewater treatment lagoons. They afterwards presented a submitted report for faculty feedback.

“It was a professional-level report and they presented it really well,” Pritchard says.

Because EWU was among “only a handful of colleges” offering a camp, Pritchard allowed for eight seniors from Central Washington University and two additional students from universities in New York and Kentucky to be included along with the EWU students.

Other 2021 EWU Geology Field Camp highlights included:

  • Mapping the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area and Beacon Hill Trail for an ongoing project in cooperation with Spokane County Parks and the Bureau of Land Management. The project is slated for completion in 2024.
  • Mapping the Fish Lake Trail, and using the findings to create brochures and 3D models to track groundwater flow and hypothetical contamination.
  • Collecting and analyzing soil samples for EWU’s Prairie Restoration Project (with the Cheney Fire Department generously providing water to help with the infiltration testing). The work established baselines that will be crucial to the success of future plantings.