Around two hundred 9th grade earth science and biology students enjoyed a day at the creek this spring learning about water quality and stream ecology. Courtney Wait of the National Committee for the New River and Wendy Patoprsty of the Watauga County Cooperative Extension teamed up with the science teachers to provide a hands-on learning experience at Winkler’s Creek behind the high school. This is a great location because the students can walk from the school down to the creek for outdoor studies, and there is an impaired tributary (Rusty Creek) that flows into Winkler’s Creek where the students can compare samples. Through Courtney’s guidance, the students test these two creeks for dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, and conductivity. The students found that the impaired tributary will not sustain life, while Winkler’s Creek is abundant with aquatic organisms.
Each student also has the opportunity to get in the creek and sample areas for benthic macro invertebrates (stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies, etc.) With the use of some nets, containers, and magnifying lenses, the students were able to rate the streams ecological integrity. Fortunately, they found many crayfish, mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, hellgrammites, craneflies, dragonfly larvae, water pennies, and damselflies. All of these nymphs and larvae need cool, clean, oxygenated water to survive. We are fortunate in the high country to have such outstanding water resources and we all need to continue our vigilance in protecting and conserving what we’ve got.
With the comparison of the two creeks (Rusty creek and Winkler’s creek) the students saw first-hand how life depends on clean water both aquatic and terrestrial including humans.