Nearly 300 high school students from across the country — and around the globe — will gather in Lincoln in 2020 to compete in a series of environmental challenges.
The National Conservation Foundation Envirothon, hosted by the state’s natural resources districts, will draw five-person teams from most U.S. states, Canada and China that will be tested in several conservation-related fields.
They’ll spend six days identifying animals, testing water quality, measuring trees, evaluating soil suitability and getting their hands dirty.
“There’s a lot of amazing sports out there and music classes, but this competition is so unique. It hits a lot of interests for different students who enjoy being outdoors,” said Ericka Hill of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts.
Envirothons started in Pennsylvania in 1979, and were originally called Environmental Olympics. In Nebraska, 460 students on 92 teams competed in last year’s regional competitions, a more than 20 percent increase over 2015.
Seventeen winning and wild-card teams from this month’s regionals will advance to the state contest in April. The event moves around the state — it was in Nebraska City two years ago, the Wildcat Hills last year — and will take place at Niobrara State Park this year.
The team that wins state will compete in the national competition, this year in Pocatello, Idaho.
With written tests and hands-on challenges, the students at the national event compete in five areas: wildlife, soils and land use, forestry, aquatic ecology and a current environmental issue.
“They just seem to have the best time,” Hill said. “It’s such a great way for them to learn. The best part is, they get to take tests with their friends.”
Nebraska’s natural resources districts pledged enough money to help cover about two-thirds of the competition’s estimated $350,000 budget, and a committee will soon start seeking private sponsorships for the remaining $90,000.
Nebraska last hosted the national event in 1996, at Mahoney State Park.