ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — In this week’s ‘All the Dirt’ we’re going explore nature and maybe even some creepy crawlies.

Rachel Pence, Program Manager with The Roanoke River Science Project, gives us all the dirt on a workshop this weekend that will not only get you back to nature but teach you a lot about our local waters! 

Rachel Pence (middle) teaches citizen scientists how to become a stream monitor. (Photo Courtesy: Roanoke River Science Project)

“The Roanoke River Science Project is a citizen science water quality monitoring program where folks like you and me become trained to conduct water quality monitoring of local rivers and streams,” said Pence. “Our program focuses on the collection of aquatic organisms that live on the bottom of rivers and streams, called “benthic macroinvertebrates.” This group includes aquatic insects, crustaceans, bivalves, gastropods, and other critters that form the basis of the food web and perform essential roles that keep stream ecosystems functioning properly. During these workshops, Pence says they collect those insects and critters because they are “biological indicators” due to their different sensitivities to or tolerances of pollutants. That means the types and diversity of organisms collected can tell us a lot about overall stream health. 

If you’re interested in becoming a stream monitor, Pence says monitoring happens once in the spring and once in the fall, so it’s not a huge time commitment. After completing the training, volunteers have the option of adopting water quality monitoring sites and a set up with a sampling partner and all necessary equipment.

“Joining our program gives you a unique opportunity to explore your local stream and learn about water quality, while collecting valuable data that is used by a lot of state agencies and local stakeholders,” said Pence. “No prior experience is required to join the program, just be willing to learn and have fun!”

Pence says these workshops are important because they are the first step for anyone who is interested in becoming a Citizen Scientist Water Quality Monitor.

“We have a great need for more Citizen Scienitist because there are only a handful of state biologists responsible for monitoring all of the rivers and streams in Virginia,” said Pence. ” This leaves behind gaps in important water quality data, and volunteer Citizen Scientists are critical for collecting and providing local water quality data and experitise.” 

One of the critters you can find while in the workshop to become a stream monitor. (Photo Courtesy: Roanoke River Science Project)

The Roanoke River Science Project is hosting “Become a Stream Monitor” workshop this weekend. “At the intro workshop, folks will be provided with an overview of our program and our mission, how to collect a water quality sample, and the steps to become a certified monitor,” said Pence. “We will review the types of organisms that we collect, look at fun photos and preserved specimens to prepare for when we see them up close and personal at an in-stream workshop this spring and summer.” 

There are a handful of spaces still available for the workshop this Saturday, Feb. 25 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Belmont Branch Library in Southeast Roanoke. To register, CLICK HERE.

Pence will be hosting additional workshops this summer and fall, so she says to be on the lookout for those announcements!

You can also learn more at