By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education specialist Lee Sherrill dips out a cup full of water from a five-gallon bucket and holds it up to the small group of students gathered around. He inserts a straw and captures a drop of water.

The juxtaposition — the drop and the bucket — hits home. The bucket represents all the water in the world. About 70 percent of the planet is covered by ocean water, making up 98 percent of the planet’s water supply. About 2 percent of the planet’s water is fresh water, but more than half of that is frozen in ice caps and glaciers, leaving about .39 percent of the total water supply in underground aquifers, wells, rivers and lakes. These waterways make up our local watersheds. We all live in a watershed, small or large.

Each year, in affiliation with The Library of Congress Center for the Book, the River of Words organization conducts an international poetry and art contest for youth focusing on the theme of watersheds. The goal is to help youth explore the natural and cultural history of the place they live, and to express, through poetry and art, what they discover.

At the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, located 11 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway off U.S. 276 near Brevard, education specialists seized the opportunity Aug. 16 to incorporate the Center’s mission to show the relationship between people and wildlife, and the natural resources they share, with the creativity the arts allow.

“The contest really fits with a lot of the things we already teach about,” said education specialist Jennifer Rowe.

Rowe and fellow education specialist Aaron Motley took students out into the woods for some hands on experience finding critters that depend on the watershed to survive. Despite recent temperatures hitting the 90s and drought conditions, a small creek feeding the Broad River still provided water for a thriving salamander population. The group found three species of salamanders — the Great Smoky Mountains are known as the salamander capitol of the world — including the Mountain Dusky, Red Salamander and Blue Ridge Two-Line.

Later in the day a second group of students, led by education specialist Sherrill, identified several more Mountain Dusky salamanders and located a dragonfly larvae. Dragonflies are an indicator species regarding the health of a wetland environment, Sherrill said. Human activities such as sewage contamination can promote bacterial growth, and deplete oxygen supplies in the water. Having found the larvae, Sherrill explained that students could ascertain that the water in the creek was clean.

In the Center’s classroom, students set about putting their lessons about the watershed to paper, pulling out tubs of crayons and watercolors, sketchbook paper and pencils. Art works tended toward creatures of the ocean deep — curly squids, whales on the horizon and jellyfish with multi-colored tentacles.

River of Words co-founders Robert Hass, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995-1997, and writer Pamela Michael will judge contest poems. Children’s book writer and illustrator Thacher Hurd will judge artwork entries.

The Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education features several programs designed for children including the upcoming Nature Nuts program on Food Chains for ages 4-7 to be held from 9 to 11 a.m. and the Eco-Explorers program on Wetlands for ages 8-11 to be held from 1 to 3 p.m. both on Sept. 11. For more information about the center, visit and click on Education/Workshops.

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