The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia

Sustainability: What it Means and How to Achieve it.

Friday, July 13th, 2012 | Posted by | No Comments

By Erin Burks
Red, White and Water intern, Summer 2012

On Monday I had the opportunity to hear Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute Amory Lovins speak at the campus of Appalachian State University. The lecture took place in the midst of the Appalachian Energy Summit, presented by Sustain Appalachia. If you missed the speech in person, you can check out the TED talk version of it.

“Sustain Appalachia,” I cannot think of a better name for the university’s mission.

Our organization, working with citizens nationwide, strives to sustain Appalachia everyday. Our goals include working to end the destruction of our land from mountaintop removal mining and protecting our air and water from the burning of coal and the resulting waste it produces. We are working to clear the way for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Perhaps it means protecting the health of people and the environment today. Maybe it means ensuring that businesses can continue generating products and customers into the future, or maybe it means transitioning to an energy source that won’t run out. Sustainability is all of these things and more.


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Connecting Kids to Their Watersheds

Monday, November 7th, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

Here in Watauga County we are lucky to have relatively clean rivers and a public that is well connected with the health of the local environment. In order to support continued generations of residents who act as good stewards for the High Country and beyond, we must educate students about threats to our local environment and ensure that they feel pride and ownership of the world around them.

The Upper Watauga Riverkeeper has helped with school water-based programs at Hardin Park Middle School and Watauga High School this fall. At Hardin Park, science teacher Alan Felker invited me to speak with each of his 7th grade science classes about the many roles of a Riverkeeper. Our discussion ranged from local river cleanups to litigation against major polluters in Kentucky. I was impressed with the quality of both questions and answers I heard from many of the students. I met up with the students later in the week to assist with Mr. Felker’s aquatics lab on the New River. Students were game to get in the chilly fall water in order to measure water velocity and turbidity, and look for macroinvertebrates used as indicators of biological condition. I hope to see many of these same students for a Watauga cleanup in the spring.

On October 19th, I helped with one of several presentations focusing on marine mammals, climate change, pollution and our connection to those issues here in Watauga County. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Science and the North Carolina Fort Fisher Aquarium, through a grant from NOAA, brought in a geodome presentation that highlighted different marine mammals and threats to them resulting from global warming and plastic pollutants. Lisa Doty, the Watauga County Recycling Coordinator, and I presented a local perspective on recycling and reducing consumption in Watauga County, and the ways our efforts can impact the ocean environment.

I was pleased to find that at least one student in each group knew that plastics are made from fossil fuels, which are non-renewable resources. The students were surprised to learn that Watauga County does not have an operational landfill, so our garbage must be shipped to Lenoir. This means that not only is our waste management more costly, but it also uses more fossil fuel: an average of 8 tractor trailer loads of garbage are sent to Lenoir every day, which costs roughly $1.3 million per year. In contrast, as recycling technology has improved, the demand for recycled plastic has increased: other companies pay Watauga County for recycled plastics and recycling creates 14,000 jobs North Carolina.

We tried to impress upon students some simple every-day things they could do to help curb the influx of waste into our waterways and oceans. Two of the easiest changes that create a large and lasting impact are reducing your use of plastic water bottles and plastic grocery bags. According to the Earth Policy Institute, 1,500 plastic water bottles end up as garbage every second. Additionally, plastic grocery bags are more costly to produce from recycled material than from virgin oil. So when your Watauga High School students turn down that store-bought water in favor of a reusable container or tell you there will be no trip to the store without reusable bags, commend them for doing their part to create a healthier planet!

Bring Us Your Drugs: Operation Medicine Cabinet This Saturday, October 8th

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

This Saturday, October 8th, we will hold our 5th Operation Medicine Cabinet (OMC), a prescription and over-the-counter drug take-back program aimed at keeping drugs off the streets and out of our rivers.

The first OMC was held in October of 2009, as a result of collaboration between the MountainKeepers organization, the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper, Watauga County Recycling and Solid Waste Department, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and local law enforcement, including the Watauga County Sheriff. As the program has continued, it has grown to include many organizations, agencies and businesses. We could not continue to have so much success without help from the community.

Since the program began, we have held the event each May and October. In October 2010, we collected 350,000 pills – our biggest event yet. Through this program, we accept all prescription drugs, no questions asked. We also accept medical supplies including needles and other sharps, as well as over-the-counter drugs. Once we have collected the drugs, they are packaged by the Watauga County Sheriff’s department and sent away for incineration. Incineration is the safest means for disposing of expired and unused medications.

One obvious reason for holding a prescription drug take-back program is to reduce prescription drug abuse by kids. Kids often gain access to dangerous painkillers through the medicine cabinets of their friends and families. A second reason is to keep drugs out of the local rivers. When drugs are flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink, the drugs go through wastewater treatment facilities and are then released into the local waterways. Wastewater treatment facilities cannot remove antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals from wastewater. Even over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen have been detected in some watersheds.

The accumulation of drugs in rivers, streams and lakes pose several problems. Antibiotics in waterways contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Increased hormones in waterways act as endocrine disrupters, which have negative consequences on the development and reproduction of aquatic animals such as fish and amphibians. With new drugs being developed all the time, ongoing research is needed to catalogue the affects of these drugs on the environment. Our safest course of action is to do our part to keep all drugs out of our waterways.

You can drop off your drugs this Saturday, October 8th, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the following locations:

Food Lion in Boone
Food Lion in Deep Gap
Food Lion in Blowing Rock
Foscoe Fire Department
Beech Mountain Town Hall
Beaverdam Volunteer Fire Department

Appalachian State University will also have a drop of location on Friday, October 7th from 11:00 am to 2:00pm in the Plemmons Student Union building.

The Brook Trout: highlighting local, regional & global environmental issues

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Posted by | No Comments

By Adam Reaves
Riverfest/Development intern, 2011

This latest Creature Feature highlighting NC’s native trout species is the Brook trout. To learn more about native aquatic critters in the area, don’t miss RiverFest on June 4th.

Throughout the Southern expanse of the Appalachian Mountains, the Brook trout spends its seven-year lifespan hunting for mollusks, insects, and frogs in cold streams, lakes and ponds. The Brook trout, sometimes known as the speckled trout or squaretail, is the only native trout species in the Appalachian Mountains and has been at the center of many natural resource management agencies’ efforts to preserve trout stocks.
Brook Trout: North Carolina's State Freshwater Trout
According to a study conducted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 92,000 resident and non-resident anglers in the High Country contributed over $150 million to the North Carolina economy. Anglers and environmentalists both have an interest in preserving the health and integrity of the trout population.

The Brook Trout in particular, highlights many complex environmental issues and how they will affect the High Country in the future.


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Pickers of all Ages to Take the Stage at RiverFest

Monday, May 9th, 2011 | Posted by | No Comments

By Parker Stevens
Parker served as Development Associate for Appalachian Voices from January 2010 to December 2011, coordinating our membership and directing two Riverkeeper festivals for the organization. She left to head up the Appalachian Women’s Fund based in Boone, N.C.

Appalachian Voices’ 2nd annual RiverFest is coming up on June 4th at the beautiful park in Valle Crucis, N.C. With lots of great activities – from storytelling to fly tying, primitive skills to facepainting – and a variety of vendors, RiverFest promises to be a great day by the river.

Local and regional musicians will provide foot-stompin’ tunes from a solar powered stage. Festival goers can hear blues and bluegrass throughout the day and can even bring their own instruments and join in at the Pickin’ Parlor.

Bill Adams, Banty RoosterBill Adams from Charlottesville, Va., will start the morning off with some solo, acoustic guitar picking. His unique fingerstyle arrangements blend old time and blues and even a little ragtime. His country blues approach to traditional fiddle tunes makes for a fun, one-of-a-kind sound that everyone can enjoy. Sample some of his songs online at (11 am – 1 pm)

Boone is full of talented performers of all ages, and some of our younger musicians are taking the stage at RiverFest to show off their skills. Jammers from the Watauga Junior Appalachian Musicians program range from third to eighth grade and attend weekly classes at the Jones House Community Center where they learn traditional folk tunes on guitar, banjo, and fiddle. (1:15 pm to 1:45 pm)

Upright & Breathin'
The mountain sounds of the Boone-based band Upright & Breathin’ will round out the afternoon. The core of Upright & Breathin’ consists of Jeff Moretz, Brian Kreher, and Chris Capozzoli, but the group is frequently joined by other talented musicians. Their songs are some of the best bluegrass tunes around, though they also spice things up with elements of jazz, gypsy swing, and good old fashioned rock & roll. (2 pm – 4 pm)

So, bring your dancing shoes and an instrument if you’ve got one, and don’t miss the Appalachian sounds of these regional acts at RiverFest 2011!

Learn more about RiverFest at

Vulcan’s Boone Quarry Pollution Problem

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | 1 Comment

Last night I was driving home, and noticed that Laurel Fork (along Hwy 105, just outside of Boone) was running a grayish color. I tracked down the source of the gray water, and it turned out to be the discharge from the Vulcan Boone Quarry (Just south of Boone on 105). Here is a video and some pictures of what I found.

A Gray-Brown Plume of water enters Laurel Fork from the Vulcan Boone Quarry. At the top of the photo you can see clear water in the Laurel Fork and then gray-brown water entering the creek from the right.

Gray-Brown Plume in Laurel Fork, created by Vulcan Boone Quarry

Discharge Pipe

Discharge Pipe

The Vulcan Boone Quarry has had repeated problems in the past with discharging milky white and gray water and they got in trouble for it before. As a result they have some fancy monitoring equipment to watch their discharge. The question remains, why is this still going on if they have they monitor this water, and if they have gotten in trouble for this before?

Monitoring Equipment and Pollution

Monitoring Equipment and Pollution

Check back for updates on what Vulcan and the North Carolina Division of Water Quality are going to do about this.

Vulcans Boone Quarry

Vulcan's Boone Quarry

Boone Limits Coal Tar Sealants- Fish and River Lovers Celebrate

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Last night (February 15) the Boone Town Council passed strict new regulations aimed to limit the impacts of coal tar based asphalt sealants.

Coal tar based asphalt sealants are terrible for the environment and have serious human health effects because they are a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). If you have ever stood in a parking lot that is really black, that is coal tar asphalt sealant, and if it smelled like tar or weird chemicals, those are the PAHs. There is really no reason to use this type of sealant, because asphalt based sealants are the same price and are far less toxic.

Although, the regulations do not outright ban the use of coal tar sealants, they do make it much more difficult. The regulations set up a permitting process, for anyone wishing to apply a pavement sealant. There will be a minimal fee for non coal tar based sealants, and a much higher fee for coal tar sealants. The permitting process is designed to allow for education on pavement sealants, and to ensure that sealants are applied in a safe manner (like when there is no chance of rain). The new permitting process will be implemented April 1, to allow for time to develop education materials and finalize the fee structure.

These new regulations are in response to the Hodges Creek fish kill. This past summer the BB&T on Highway 105 in Boone applied coal tar based asphalt sealant to their parking lot in the rain. The sealant washed off into Hodges Creek, killing all life in the creek until its confluence with Boone Creek, near the mall, 1.5 miles downstream. Shea Tuberty of Appalachian State told the town council that he had done sampling in Hodges Creek in January, little life has returned to the Creek, six months after the spill.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the town council to stand up for clean streams!