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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Farmers, gardeners and the general public are invited to the 13th annual Small Farms Field Day, 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday, June 19, 2014 at the University Farm at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, 3136 McConnell Road in Greensboro.
The free, rain-or-shine event is an annual showcase of the latest in agricultural technology and techniques, and is sponsored by The Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University.
This year’s showcase includes demonstrations on:
  • Dairy production, including artificial insemination
  • Goat genetics
  • Alley cropping: organic pecans and bell peppers
  • Test tube plants
  • Integrated Pest Management for vegetable crops
  • Organic vegetables and cucumber grafting in high tunnels
Growers interested in traveling to this field day from Boone should contact Area Agent Richard Boylan at or 828-264-3061 to reserve a seat. Since the Extension van is already booked on another mission that day, there is only room for two passengers! We will depart at 6:30 AM.

Friday, June 6, 2014

It's Summertime!

It’s time for summer fun and for many youth, going to camp is a rite of passage.  The prospects of being away from parents bring feelings of excitement and nervousness.  While homesickness is a normal thing, parents can lay the groundwork to help youth prepare for homesickness.  The American Camping Association has some great tips for dealing with homesickness:

Involve the child in choosing the camp, as well as planning and packing
Encourage independence throughout the year with sleepovers
Focus on confidence in your children
Discuss what camp will be like.  If you can, visit the camp beforehand
Invite a friend to go along too
Discuss what homesickness might feel like and that it is normal
Brainstorm together ways to deal with homesickness, for example,  record what camp is like with a journal, drawings or photographs;  stay busy;  talk to someone;  focus on the fun
Send a note beforehand so your child gets it soon after arriving to camp
Avoid the pick up deal- “if you feel homesick, I will come get you”
Show younger campers a calendar so they can see how long they will be gone

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

4-H Super Summer

4-H Super Summer is open for registration.  Join us for fun activities for 5-12 year olds.  The workshops are designed to introduce youth to 4-H topics and activities and more.  

The list of times and dates is here.
To register, fill out the registration form and medical release form.  
Drop off at the Extension office at 971 West King Street (or mail in).
Call 264-3061 for questions.