Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two Rivers Kinders Discover the Wonders of Wetlands at Boone Presbyterian Church

Kindergarteners from Two Rivers Community School watch in awe as Doug and Connie Hall show them all the life that lives in the newly constructed stormwater wetland behind the Boone Presbyterian Church.
There are thousands of tadpoles - American Toad, Pickerel, Bullfrog, and Wood Frog - throughout the pools of the constructed wetland.  Adult Red-Spotted Newts were also found throughout the pools.

Volunteer Emily Sutton shows off a dragonfly larvae to the kids while the thousands of American Toad Tadpoles thrive in the shallows. 
The vegetation planted in the wetland was all grown from seed in the Boone Stormwater Wetland Floating Islands that the Cooperative Extension cares for throughout the growing season. 

The constructed stormwater wetland and the First Presbyterian Church of Boone captures and mitigates over eight acres of impervious surfaces including rooftop, parking lots and driveways.   Since construction and planting, there has been numerous programs for youth to learn hands-on methods to protect water quality and the importance of habitat for wildlife. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Watauga Riverfest a Success

Chloe teaches about precipitation in the water cycle obstacle course

Megan demonstrates infiltration with the groundwater flow model as part of the water cycle obstacle course

Laura demonstrates the non point source pollution Enviroscape to youth and adults!  Janie is playing cornhole in the background. 

Connor from Brushy Fork Environmental demonstrates erosion and runoff with the water cycle obstacle course.

Jonathan with the North Toe Partnership found some fishes in Dutch Creek to show folks!  Of course they were released at the end of the day!

The Sunshine that drives the water cycle was found hanging out with Mandy the Mayfly at the river station of the water cycle obstacle course!

Lots of local non profits and organizations set up displays, booths, exhibits, demonstrations throughout the day!

The Hands-Free Watermelon Eating Contest was a sure success!  Four winners received a coupon for a free pound of candy from the Candy Barrel at Mast General Store!
Snotty the Hellbender from the NC Zoo made an appearance at Riverfest!!!

Bettie Bond watercolors the Mandy the Mayfly Adventure booklet!  Thank you to the High Country Water Media Society for funds to have the custom book printed!

Will and Bon show kids whats living in Dutch Creek.  Elderberry is in full bloom on the right.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Valle Crucis Community Park Wetland: A Case for Mucking it Up

If you’ve been to the Valle Crucis Community Park this summer you may be wondering why the water level in the park’s pond has been falling. This intentional lowering of the pond’s water level marks the beginning of a two-year project to convert the man-made pond into a natural wetland habitat.   
For over 20 years, the constructed pond received a constant flow of water from the Watauga River. Unfortunately, this was not healthy for the river. Cold water from the river flowed into the pond and heated up, and then that warm pond water flowed back into the Watauga River. The river supports trout and other species that need cold water to survive and, according to Wendy Patoprsty, Watauga County Extension Agent, thermal pollution is one of the main issues impacting Western North Carolina trout streams. With increased development, excess stormwater runoff, and decreased stream bank vegetation, stream temperatures are at their height by mid-summer and many areas are unable to support wildlife dependent on cold water.

In 2007, the river was cut off from the pond during a stream bank restoration project. This was a good step to protect aquatic life in the river, but negatively impacted the pond. Without the river water flowing into the pond, the water gets very stagnant and smelly, and aggressive invasive species have been choking out plant diversity. “For the past few years we’ve been actively removing invasive plants and replanting with native species,” says Bon-Scott Hartwig, Maintenance Director at Valle Crucis Community Park.

Caroline Gandy, the park’s Executive Director, has a vision of increasing habitat diversity and wildlife populations within the Valle Crucis Community Park, stating that “this pond conversion will serve a valuable ecological function for not only bird migration but also amphibians in the floodplain corridor.”

The next step in the project will be the installation of native wetland plants such as arrow arum, swamp hibiscus, cardinal flower, pickerel weed, duck potato, and native rushes and sedges to create a natural design and patterns of color and textures. The High Country Audubon has been very supportive of this project because many of the plant species that will be incorporated are excellent bird habitat. 

Wetlands are incredibly important ecosystems that provide habitat for many species of birds, plants, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and insects while also keeping our water clean and helping to store floodwater. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the lower 48 states contained over 220 million acres of wetlands in the 1600s. In 2009, surveys found only 110.1 million acres of wetlands, the result of hundreds of years of filling wetlands to make room for farming and development.

For more information, or if you’re interested in helping with planting this summer, please contact Wendy Patoprsty at the Watauga County Cooperative Extension at 828-264-3061.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A&T Small Farms Field Day Showcases Innovative Farm Practices

On Thursday, 6/19, North Carolina A&T State University hosted its annual Small Farms Field Day. Here are a few pictures from the event, showing some of the innovative and effective strategies that they demonstrate as part of their outreach and Extension.

St. Croix Sheep have a reputation for being parasite-resistant and high-quality. Like other 'hair sheep' breeds, they do not require shearing but instead shed their wool naturally in the springtime.

Dr. Sanjun Gu, horticulture specialist at A&T, describes an agroforestry model comparing Pecan tree production on its own (foreground) and an integrated system combining Pecans with vegetables (in the distant background). In the High Country region, hardier nut tree species would be chosen, perhaps to include hazelnuts or coppiced Chinese Chestnuts.

The A&T farm recently added a rainwater collection system to some of the high tunnels at the University Farm. Rain water from the gutters mounted above the roll-up sides flows to an underground cistern, where it is filtered and available for reuse as irrigation water inside the hoop houses.

 While hoop houses are valuable real estate on any farm, cover crops can still play an important role in maintaining soil health and fertility there. Here, one of the A&T University Farm Organic hoop houses grows a summer cover crop of Millet and Soybeans.

A close-up of the Millet/Soybean organic cover crop.

Organic tomatoes and cucumbers at the A&T University Farm.

Organic peppers and cucumbers at the A&T University Farm.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Riparian Vegetation Workshop a Success

Participants from all over the east coast gathered for two days this week at the Valle Crucis Conference Center to learn about native and invasive riparian vegetation!  Allison Weakly from NC Natural Heritage Program and Karen Hall, NCSU Biological and Agricultural Engineering / Cooperative Extension Program led our learning.
For a well-rounded workshop, participants learned in the classroom and outdoors next to Dutch Creek.  Day one, we went up to Bear Paw for a pristine look at the riparian zone and found so much diversity!  Day two, we got to identify a heavily impacted section of the stream with lots and lots of invasive species and not much diversity.  We found so many species from the Southern Catalpa tree blooms (pictured above) to Mock Orange!
Riverfest, a festival celebrating the Watauga River and the High Country’s natural resources, will take place at Valle Crucis Community Park June 21 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will be free and open to the public.
In its 14th year, Riverfest will be an exciting and fun-filled day, with educational activities and demonstrations. There will be hands-on activities and information for both youth and adults. Participants will go home with not only new appreciation for the Watauga River, but also with skills and knowledge needed to reduce their environmental impact as well as to educate others. The first step to keeping our rivers clean and healthy starts with the community.
Events include old-fashioned hay rides in the fish mobile, a fingers in the creek activity where children can hunt for Mandy the Mayfly, a trip through the 50 ft. watercycle obstacle course, and a fantastic watermelon eating contest. Kids can join in the Krazy Kazoo band concert, get their face painted, have their pictures taken as fish, and visit with goats and alpacas. All games at the festival will have prizes which can be taken home.
Parents and adults will enjoy seeing trash converted to other useful objects and can view the new Valle Crucis Park wetland, now under construction. Food will be available for purchase from Feastie Boys Food Truck.
Rocky, the NC Zoo hellbender, will hold a meet & greet at Riverfest. The hellbender is North America’s largest salamander. Mandy the Mayfly will also be available for photos and autographs. Children can get their own “Mandy the Mayfly” children’s activity workbook at Riverfest. The workbook educates kids about water resources and biological life within rivers.
Exhibitors include Watauga River Partners, Appalachian Voices, Apple Hill Farm, ASU Recycles, Watauga County Recycling, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Children’s Playhouse, Elkland Art Center, NC Fish and Wildlife, High Country Audubon, NC Zoo, Watauga River Anglers, RiverGirl Fishing Company, Bare Essentials, Earth Fare, Watauga County Christmas Tree Association, Brushy Fork Environmental, and Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development.
Riverfest is presented by Watauga River Partners and sponsored by Mast General Store, Bare Essentials Natural Market, and Valle Crucis Community Park. Taking place at Valle Crucis Community Park, at 2892 Broadstone Rd. in Valle Crucis, Riverfest is a free event with ample free parking.
About the Watauga River Partners: The Watauga River Partners formed in 1999 as a chapter of the Western North Carolina Alliance in response to the growing pressures on the water quality of the Watauga River and its tributaries. The purpose of the organization is to educate the community about the Watauga River and to promote conservation and rehabilitation of the river. Watauga River Partners’ efforts to protect the Watauga River serve communities along the 60-mile stretch of river. For additional information about the Watauga River Partners or Riverfest, contact Wendy Patoprsty at (828) 264-3061 or email wmpatopr@ncsu.edu.