The Green Scene

Paddle trip down the French Broad takes the river's pulse

Last Wednesday, Xpress joined French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson and a group of paddlers organized by the Western North Carolina Alliance on day six of their 11-day trip down the French Broad River.

Something fishy going on: River advocates Donna Lisenby, left, and Hartwell Carson, right, flank Philip Martin, center, who collected some of the fish caught last week for evaluating water quality in the French Broad River. Photo by Michael Muler

The paddlers took in the sights and conducted water-quality and fish-tissue studies as participants paddled 119 miles from Rosman to Hot Springs. The French Broad River near Asheville was the focus on this day. The flotilla paused to collect fish and sediment samples at the effluent channel that delivers wastewater from Progress Energy's Skyland plant into the river. The WNC Alliance has raised concerns about heavy metals and other toxins from the coal-ash ponds at the Progress plant escaping into the river below (see Green Scene, May 19).

"We asked the state fish and wildlife commission to help us with this testing," said Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby, project leader for the French Broad trip. "But they refused, saying that they do not design a study to investigate a specific source of pollution. So we're doing this grassroots-style, with the people — citizens participating and learning. If the environmental regulatory agencies don't do adequate oversight, it becomes incumbent on the people to get involved."

State records of game fish collected from the French Broad have shown high levels of mercury in recent years — in at least one case, exceeding the recommendations of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on what's considered safe to eat.

Lab studies of samples collected on the paddle trip will be discussed in an upcoming Green Scene story. Meantime, readers can view Michael Muller's photo essay on the trip at www.mountainx.com.

Name that tributary

RiverLink is seeking suggestions for nameless creeks throughout the French Broad watershed — including eight counties in Western North Carolina and four in Tennessee — with a series of "Name-that-Creek" events. It's a local, grassroots effort in which the community votes for the best name at a creek-naming ceremony. After a name is chosen, it is submitted to the United States Geological Survey to eventually become the official name for the creek.

Since the project began in 2007, RiverLink has coordinated two such contests with the help of community volunteers. Buttermilk Creek, a tributary of Hominy Creek in West Asheville, got its moniker after community members did some historical research showing that in earlier times, a milk company upstream emptied its trucks into the creek at the end of the day, causing the creek to "run white." Big Branch, a tributary of Reems Creek in Weaverville, has also been named in the program.

Volunteers can bring an unnamed creek to RiverLink's attention, then organize their neighbors and the community creek-naming ceremony. Contact RiverLink Volunteer Coordinator Dave Russell at volunteer@riverlink.org if you want to participate.

New pollinator garden to open at Southern Research Station

There's a certain buzz about a new garden at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station in Asheville. Agency officials and volunteers broke ground last week on a new pollinator garden at the entrance to the research station's headquarters on Weaver Boulevard as part of the agency's local celebration of "National Pollinator Week."

The garden features groupings of mostly native flowers and shrubs, providing sources of food for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Organizers of the project selected plants to ensure that something is always in bloom from early spring through late fall. The garden will also provide a water source and shelter, such as logs and stumps. A low spot in the garden will supply minerals and mud used by many bees and butterflies.

The station plans to expand the garden over time. Area residents and station employees donated plants for the garden, and local master gardener/beekeeper Diane Almond is volunteering her time to oversee its development. The research station hopes to encourage area residents to create their own pollinator gardens to support local and migratory wildlife, using native plants as much as possible.

Touch a rock from Mars

Ever wanted to hold a rock from Mars? How about a moon rock? You can get your chance next week at a special presentation at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute near Rosman in Transylvania County by PARI President Don Cline. The evening's activities on Friday, July 9, will include a tour of the PARI campus and celestial observations using PARI's telescopes.

"Don Cline has assembled a museum-quality meteorite collection," says PARI Education Director Christi Whitworth, "Don will show various types of meteorites and explain how scientists analyze them to determine their origin. His collection includes material from Mars and from the moon.  Unlike a static museum display, people who attend this special Evening at PARI will be able to touch and hold these rare objects from outer space."

The Evening at PARI program will begin at 7 p.m. with a site tour, followed by the presentation and observation session.  Participants may also have a photo taken with a PARI telescope and receive a subscription to the PARI newsletter (plus a 10-percent discount on PARI merchandise).

Reservations are required and will be accepted until 3 p.m. the day of the event. Evening at PARI programs cost $20 per adult, $15 for seniors/military and $10 for children under 14.

For more information or to make a reservation, contact Christi Whitworth at (828) 862-5554 or send an e-mail to cwhitworth@pari.edu. Reservations can also be made online at www.pari.edu.

Susan Andrew can be reached at 251-1333 x 153, or sandrew@mountainx.com.

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