There’s excitement in the air as the class, its members scattered across the Pigeon River under cloudy skies in Canton, hunches over the water in an enthusiastic search. Slightly encumbered by awkwardly bulging, oversize wader suits, class members turn over rocks, shuffle their feet across the river bottom and generally stir things up to flush any nearby aquatic creatures into their waiting nets.
Haywood Waterways Association has provided this education program year after year for eighth-graders in Haywood County, but on Sept. 24, the class wasn’t composed of over-energetic teenagers.
Richland Creek is now teaming with new inhabitants raised by Haywood County students in classroom fish tanks.
After feeding and caring for the fish all year, the students set them free last week as part of an effort to restore native species to the creek that courses through Waynesville.
During the streamside field day, students explored water quality, performing many of the same tests on creek water they had on the aquariums in the class, such as measuring the pH and the temperature.
“The best way for kids to learn about the environment and ecology of streams is to actually get in the water,” said Bill Eaker, a board member with Haywood Waterways Association, which has worked on the project. “They remember a lot more from hands-on activities than sitting in the classroom.”
Biologists with the N.C. Division of Water Quality used nets to dredge aquatic critters from the creek and lay them out for inspection.
“What lives in the stream is an indication of how clean the water is,” Eaker said as the students sifted through rocks and sticks for a crayfish.
As part of their experiments, the students pulled up buckets of creek water to observe how much sediment was in the stream.
“What does the water run through on its way to the creek?” Mark Ethridge, a science teacher at Tuscola, posed to the students. “The ground.”
While it might seem obvious, Ethridge was working up to an “ah-hah” moment, one that would help students realize how a watershed works.
“You see those mountains over there?” Ethridge asked, pointing to the ridges that ring Waynesville. “When it rains on those mountains it all washes down and ends up right here.”
Ethridge explained how rare it is that in Haywood County all the water that flows through the county originate here, making it one of the few places that has complete control its own destiny when it comes to water quality.
To support clean water and water quality education in Haywood County, become a member or donate to Haywood Waterways Association. www.haywoodwaterways.org