Posts Tagged ‘environmental education’

Kids in Parks Reconnects Families with the Outdoors

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Young hikers examine a trail brochure in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Kids in Parks

Young hikers examine a trail brochure in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Kids in Parks

By Chris Robey

Basic ecological literacy is waning among children. A 2008 study by BBC Wildlife Magazine indicates that most children cannot identify common plants and animals, and an earlier study concluded that children know more about Pokemon than they do about wildlife.

Even the language used to describe nature is falling out of favor. The latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has cut words like pasture, otter and willow in favor of more “modern” terms such as broadband and MP3 player.

In Appalachia, trail-based education initiatives like Kids in Parks’ TRACK Trails program are re-introducing children to the natural world through self-guided hiking adventures.

Between 2007 and 2008, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation found that less than 11 percent of visitors brought young children to the parkway, according to Kids in Parks Director Jason Urroz. Around this time, Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” was widely circulating. The book connects lack of outdoor play to numerous health and behavioral problems in children. Among its readers was Dr. Olson Huff, a renowned pediatrician who, through a collaboration between the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina and the National Park Service, helped create the TRACK Trails program. Eight states now host TRACK Trails, including Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

TRACK brochures can be downloaded online and include a variety of on-trail activities such as Nature’s Hide and Seek, which lists local flora and fauna for children to look for on a hike. The self-guided activities allow kids to go at their own pace, while their parents can step in as educators, sharing meaningful moments while teaching their children the differences between red and white oaks or pointing out the cardinal or bluebird that would otherwise go unnoticed.

According to Urroz, it is critical that children be given the opportunity to find inspiration in the outdoors. “If we don’t get kids and families today outdoors,” he says, “then who’s going to be our future stewards?”

Learn more at

Nationwide Cleanup Program Comes to Tennessee River

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Dac Collins

In its first Tennessee River Tour this spring, Living Lands & Water will travel the length of the river in a colossal vessel made of four garbage barges and a floating classroom. The nonprofit organization based in Illinois will stop at six cities along the way to host educational workshops and river cleanups.

Since 1998, Living Lands & Water has hosted hundreds of cleanups in waterways across the country. With the help of volunteers, the organization has removed more than 8 million pounds of debris from U.S. rivers.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is contributing $150,000 to fund the tour, which will stop in Knoxville, Tenn. from April 8-15; in Chattanooga, Tenn. from April 20-26; in Decatur, Ala. from April 30-May 6; in Muscle Shoals, Ala. from May 9-12; in Paris, Tenn. from May 17-19; in Paducah, Ky. from May 28-June 4.

For more information, visit:

Environmental Summer Camps 2014

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Kelsey Boyajian

Children having a blast at Camp Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, N.C.

Children having a blast at Camp Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, N.C.

Would you like to splash in a mountain creek and identify tree frogs? Study marine biology and learn about sea turtles in the sandy dunes of North Carolina? Or go on backpacking, horseback riding and tubing adventures in the foothills of eastern Tennessee? Browse our online listing of summer camp programs for all ages ranging from five to 18 years old. The majority of the programs have an emphasis on environmental sciences and sustainability, with outdoor activities including hiking, wilderness skills, field science and more. Programs offer opportunities for exciting challenges and games, and an interesting, fun-filled summer! Camp costs vary and some scholarships are available.

Session: 1 week (6/23-6/27; 7/7-7/11; 7/21-7/25)
Location: Asheville, N.C.
Age Group: 8-14
Cost: Free with registration
RiverLink is having an adventurous, fun, and educational summer camp! Campers will learn about rivers, enjoy the outdoors, and have fun with arts and crafts! June 23rd -27th and July 21st -25th for rising 6th-8th grade. July 7th – 11th for rising 3rd-5th grade. Register online or by calling Education Coordinator, Lizzy.
Camp Chattooga
Session: 1-8 week sessions (Open 6/1-8/2)
Location: Tallulah Falls, Ga.
Age Group: 7-14 years old (girls only)
Cost: $695-775
Participate in activities that encourage growth and development, including hiking, archery and arts and crafts. Cabins house 16 campers of various age groups.
Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass
Session: 5 day session (Open 6/9-8/1)
Location: Versailles, Ky.
Age Group: 7-14 years old
Cost: $375 total (including $150 deposit)
Life Adventure Center is an educational nonprofit that offers campers various programs from environmental education, to wilderness living, to the challenge course. Campers are encouraged to engage, educate and empower each participant.
Sea Turtle Camp
Date: 6/15-6/27
and/or 7/27-8/8
Location: Topsail Island, N.C.
Age Group: 13-17 years old
Cost:$3,495 (including $1,195 deposit)
Marine Biology Open Water Scuba Camp
Escape the heat and explore the water of the Atlantic. The Sea Turtle Open Water SCUBA Camp is for ages 13-17. Campers will be trained by the best divers on the East Coast, and by the end of the session they will receive their SCUBA certification from the National Association of Underwater instructors. Camp tuition includes suites on Topsail Island, all meals, all equipment, professional scuba instruction, transportation, 24-hour supervision.
Sea Turtle Camp
Date: 6/22-7/2
Location: Topsail Island, N.C.
Age Group: 13-17 years old
Cost:$2,895 (including $995 deposit)
Marine Biology Immersion Camp
An 11-day session where campers will spend 15 hours working with the volunteers of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. Campers will participate in rehabilitation at the hospital, conduct sea turtle nest walks, learn about salt marshes and sea turtles and study marine debris in the Sargasso Sea and other oceanic surface currents. Campers will earn up to 25 hours of community service.
Green River Preserve
Session: One to three weeks (Open 6/8-8/8)
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, N.C.
Age Group: 2nd-9th graders
Cost: $1275-$3600
Green River Preserve provides opportunities for young children and teens to connect with nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Campers will spend time on hiking, campouts, afternoon activities and group learning projects. Through the activities, campers will learn healthy and rewarding ways to spend their free time.
Eagle’s Nest
Session: One to three weeks (Open 6/7-8/10)
Location: Pisgah Forest, N.C.
Age Group: 5th-9th graders
Cost: $2575-$3990 *financial aid available
Join Eagle’s Nest Camp, located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in N.C., with campers from all around the world. Campers are encouraged to grow simply with activities that promote self-expression, personal growth, skill building and fun. Camp activities are related to wilderness, arts and music, athletics, classes and other special activities.
UNCW Marine Quest
Session: One to three weeks
Location: Wilmington, N.C.
Age Group: Varies
Cost: Varies
UNCW MarineQuest offers a variety of different programs for that suit different age groups. Campers can observe marine organisms up close, conduct hands-on science experiments, play educational field games and crafts, or explore the ocean through more service learning programs.
Camp Muddy Sneakers
Session: 5 Days (Open 6/9-8/8)
Location: Brevard, N.C., Asheville, N.C., or Fletcher, N.C.
Age Group: 5th graders
Cost: $295
A new and exciting day camp located in western N.C. that seeks to educate rising 4th through 7th graders on the natural world through hands-on exploration. Camp Muddy Sneakers offers an innovative day camp that seeks to build on each organizations’ recognized environmental education programming while filling a niche in the current summer camp offerings.
Western North Carolina Nature Center
Session: 1 week (8:30am- 3pm); open 6/16-8/8
Location: Asheville, N.C.
Age Group: Pre-school- Elementary school
Cost: $70-175
Each session has a different theme covering subjects such as plants and animals, social studies and the arts and sciences. Crafts and lessons in the classroom will encourage environmental awareness among children.
National Environmental Summit
Date: July 8-12
Location: Salisbury, N.C.
Age Group: High School (14-17 years of age)
Cost: $490
The 2014 National Environmental Summit for High School Students will be led by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College and the Rocky Mountain Institute. Participants will learn the skills needed to create a sustainable environment in their futures. Small workshops will also teach students leadership skills.
Camp Explore
Session: One week (Open 5/26-7/11)
Location: Greeneville, Tenn.
Age Group: 4th-6th graders (grade just completed)
Cost: $25 for day trip, $100 for overnight trip
Camp Explore is committed to enhance student awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of the environment by teaching and modeling good character traits while exploring nature. The camp features environmental education, character education, hands-on experiential activities, critical-thinking development, cooperative learning and more.
Smoky Mountain Adventure Camp
Session: 5 days to 4 weeks (Open 6/22-7/25)
Location: Smoky Mountains, Tenn.
Age Group 8-18 years old
Cost: $795 – $2795
Take an adventure with Smoky Mountain Adventure Camp. Activities include backcountry hikes, caving, rock climbing, rafting, tubing, horseback riding and overnight backpacking expeditions at the foothills of East Tennessee.
Tate’s Day Camp
Session: 4 to 5 days (Open 5/27-8/1)
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Age: 3-13 years old
Cost: $266- $286
Tate’s Day Camp offers traditional camp activities. Through hands-on activities and low counselor-to-camper ratios, campers are given opportunities to build self-esteem and allowed individual growth and maturity.
Camp Idyllwild
Session: One-night sleepover, and 4 to 5 days (Open 5/27-8/7)
Location: Duck River, Tenn.
Age Group: 5-13 years old
Cost: $300 for weekly sessions. Discount may apply.
Camp Idyllwild provides opportunities for campers to explore nature in an unstructured way and use their imaginations to discover their environment. Campers will build forts, explore creeks, hike, make arts and crafts, and learn about organic gardening. Camp Idyllwild’s child-centered camp philosophy allows campers to make choices throughout the day and encourages independent thinking and decision-making.
Nature Camp
Session: 2-3 weeks (Open 6/15-8/9)
Location: Rockbridge County, Va.
Age Group: 7-15 years old
Cost: $815 *financial aid available
Nature Camp offers educational and recreational programs. Founded by Lillian Schilling of Afton, Va., in 1942, this camp educates campers on the importance of conserving and protecting the environment.
Browne Summer Camp
Session: 8 weeks, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Location: Alexandria, Va.
Age Group: 3-13
Cost: $270-$390 per week for mini camp. $390 for both junior and senior camps.
Browne Summer Camp offers a variety of activities to meet the interests of our campers and increase self-confidence and pride. Activities include daily swimming with certified lifeguards, art, sports, music, dance, technology, nature, drama and more.
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing
Session: 1-4 weeks (Open 6/15-8/23)
Location: New Castle, Va.
Age Group: 8-18 years old
Cost: $795- $2640
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing lies on 500 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just 35 miles northwest of Roanoke, Va. Campers can explore the outdoors learn about wildlife. Provided programs are designed to challenge children both physically and mentally, but the ultimate goal is the fun, friendship and camaraderie that can only be found around a campfire, sleeping under the stars.
West Virginia State Conservation Camp
Session: One six-day session (6/9-6/14)
Location: Webster County, W.Va.
Age Group: 14-18
Cost: $185, scholarships available
WV State Conservation Camp is located on the edge of Monongahela National Forest in the towering mountains of southern Webster County, West Virginia. Campers can enjoy an action-packed week filled with interactive workshops, group assemblies, recreation opportunities, evening campfires and social events.
34th Annual Junior Conservation Camp
Session: 1 week (6/16-6/20)
Location: Ripley, W.Va.
Age Group: 11-14
Cost: $170
The camp offers a wide variety of classes that will enhance the participant’s knowledge of the environment and enable them to become good stewards of our natural resources. Classes include forestry, wildlife, archery, water study, recycling, hunter education, fishing, and many others. Sports activities include basketball, kickball, volleyball, and more.
Department of Environmental Protection Junior Conservation Camp
Session: One five-day session (6/16-6/20)
Location: Ripley, W.Va.
Age Group: 11-14
Cost: $170
Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, Cedar Lakes sits on more than 200 acres in Jackson County, W. Va. Morning classes on environmental education include forestry, wildlife, hunter and fishing education and more. Afternoons include activities such as traditional sports, archery, canoeing, yoga and geocaching.
Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies
Session: 3-12 days (Open 6/22-7/27)
Location: Capon Bridge, W.Va.
Age Group: Ages 8-21+
Cost: $880- $1520
Located in a remote valley of the West Virginian Appalachians, the Burgundy Center offers campers great ways to explore nature. Small camp size fosters camaraderie.Campers may get to see deer, dragonflies, red-spotted newts and more.
Camp Greenbrier for Boys
Session: 3-6 weeks (Open 6/29-8/9)
Location: Alderson, W.Va.
Age Group: 7-18 years old (boys only)
Cost: $2775- $4750
Camp Greenbrier For Boys, found in 1898, is located on the banks of the Greenbrier River in Alderson, West Virginia. Operated by the same family for three generations, Camp Greenbrier is a safe haven where boys have fun, gain self-confidence, and make lifelong friends.
Camp Rim Rock for Girls
Session: 1-4 weeks (Open 6/29-8/23)
Location: Yellow Spring, W.Va.
Age Group: 6-16 years old (girls only)
Cost: $1300-$4200
Operating for over sixty years and regarded by campers and camp professionals as one of the finest camps for girls, Camp Rim Rock Camp for Girls offers a well-rounded program. Activities include performing arts, arts and crafts, horseback riding, various sports and more.
Camp High Rocks
Dates: June 14th-27th or July 12th-27th
Location: Hillsboro, W.Va.
Age Group: 7th grade (First session) and 8th-11th grade (Second session); girls only
Cost: Free *recommendations required
Camp High Rocks serves girls from three rural counties in West Virginia: Pocahontas, Nicholas and Greenbrier. High Rocks teaches young women leadership skills, the value of building a community and how to live healthy and empowered lifestyles.
Full Circles Foundation
Dates: July 14-August 1 (4-day sessions)
Location: Raleigh, N.C. & Lexington, Ky.
Age Group: 4-17 years old; girls only
Cost: Free *recommendations required
Full Circles Foundation’s Strong Camp is a residential program for young women that helps to promote a strong self, strong neighbor and strong home in their day-to-day lives, through lessons on culture, community-building and our global systems.
Rolling Academy
Session: 1 session (6/24-7/7)
Location: Across the U.S.
Age Group: 9th-11th graders
Cost: Free *recommendations required
This advanced leadership academy is based out of a van that travels all throughout the United States. Participants will see anything from a West Virginia coal mine to New York City on their excursions. Participants must be from Watauga County, N.C., to apply and are selected by a committee after being recommended.
Camp Easter Seals UCP
Session: 6 and 12 day sessions (6/8-8/16)
Location: North Carolina & Virginia
Age Group: All ages
Cost: $1,000-4,600 *scholarships available
Easter Seals UCP is a camp working specifically with disabled children and adults with assistance available through trained staff members. Campers participate in anything from sleeping under the stars to canoeing down Craig’s Creek or even riding a horse. Easter Seals provides a life changing experience for any age.

A Science of Responsibility:

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

Dr. Ben Stout’s Dedication to Community-Based Research

By Brian Sewell

Photo courtesy Wheeling Jesuit University

Photo courtesy Wheeling Jesuit University

Dr. Ben Stout, a stream ecologist and professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, is as at home in nearby communities as he is in the classroom. For more than 20 years, he has conducted his research outside of the lab and in local communities, testing water, listening to residents’ concerns, and publishing and testifying on his findings.

Stout says his responsibility to residents of Appalachia began in 1990, when he testified in the “first big mountaintop removal case” held in a federal court in Charleston, W.Va. There, he spoke about the impact of valley fills on stream health, and catalyzed an ongoing national debate about the tenets of the Clean Water Act that apply to mountaintop removal coal mining.

“That was earth-shaking to me,” Stout says. “Up to that point I really did not know anything about mountaintop removal and I couldn’t believe that people denied these headwater streams existed or that they were important. That changed my career path … from then on I’ve always done applied stuff, community-based participatory research. I work for the citizens.”

In West Virginia and across Appalachia, Stout has become well known for his research. In 2004, he met with residents in Mingo County, W.Va., who claimed their water was contaminated by the coal industry’s practice of injecting slurry from coal processing plants underground. The report Stout went on to write found that, for many families, drinking or even bathing in their tap water could present a “chronic health hazard.” Nearly 700 impacted Mingo County residents sued Massey Energy over the contamination — Massey eventually settled out of court with the residents for $35 million.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

Keeping with his commitment to conduct community-based research, Stout and several students are currently working in western Pennsylvania, interpreting complex pre-drilling water reports. In exchange, residents can anonymously add information about their water quality to a database of pre-drilling water quality for the region. Stout says that data could allow researchers to paint a better picture of what well and stream water quality were like before drilling and more accurately assess contamination problems when they do occur.

“That is my role,” Stout says, “to make sure people have good information and to fight off disinformation, and we get plenty of that.”

Teacher, Wife, Activist, Mother:

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

Wilma Lee Steele Turns Focus to Healing

By Molly Moore

Wilma Steele and her husband Terry at a Mountain Justice activist gathering. Photo by Andrea Steele Mounts

Wilma Steele and her husband Terry at a Mountain Justice activist gathering. Photo by Andrea Steele Mounts

For Wilma Lee Steele, the devastation wrought by mountaintop removal coal mining can’t be measured solely by polluted streams or transformed ridgelines. For someone as spiritually connected to the mountains of her West Virginia home as Steele is, blasting away mountaintops for the sake of coal is deeply offensive, and she has actively opposed the practice for decades.

Still, she doesn’t see the people behind the coal companies or state environmental agency as enemies, despite their offenses. “I believe in treating people like people and listening to what they have to say,” Steele says. She declares that the path to mending divided communities — and to healing the land and water itself — is based in right treatment of one another.

Steele has had a lot of practice putting these principles into action. When she taught kindergarten through 12th grade, with a focus on special needs students and art education, she tried to steer clear of coal subjects. But when students prompted her she always responded respectfully and truthfully.

That habit of speaking the truth is one of the best qualities of days gone by, Steele says. As a young woman, she was close with the older generations — together, they cut out quilt squares, picked cherries and baked pies. Though many of these bygone friends were coal miners, Steele is confident they would have opposed mountaintop removal. When youthful environmentalists began arriving in Mingo County in the ‘90s, Steele saw similarities between them and the older folks, and felt a kinship that extended beyond a mutual care for the Earth.

“They saw something that needed to change and they were willing to work to bring that change,” Steele says. “I never considered myself an activist, yet I realize now I always was, before the environmental movement,” she adds, “because no matter what age I was I would speak up for what was right or true.”

Through the years, Steele and her husband Terry have hosted more than 400 visitors at their home, showing them the contrast of destruction and beauty in the region and entertaining long conversations by the firepit. She feels that her greatest strength lies in connecting visitors to the place and people she loves. In addition, she joins a host of organizations in efforts such as attending permit hearings and documenting the abuses of coal companies and government agencies.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

In Steele’s mind, companies bent on extracting West Virginia’s natural wealth have controlled the state’s narrative for too long. The key to the future, she says, is for residents to “quit letting someone else define us” and to listen to one another.

“You don’t have to call anyone a liar,” she says. “The only thing you have to do is speak the truth with love and understanding.”

Anna George: Aquatic Activist

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Peter Boucher

When Anna George was a child, she would pester her mother to take her to zoos and aquariums. As she grew up, she conducted research in a variety of aquatic environments — from the Dauphin Sea Lab on the Alabama coast to the Cayman Islands — and her incredible enthusiasm for animals developed into a passion for Appalachian freshwater fish.

Photo courtesy of Anna George

Photo courtesy of Anna George

As an undergraduate student, George found her natural habitat in the lakes, streams and rivers of the Mountain Lake Biology Station in Pembroke, Va. Impressed by the diversity of freshwater environments — home to more than 25 percent of all vertebrates on earth — George was roused to protect a variety of life that she felt was “in peril and extremely unknown.”

George studies the aquatic life in Appalachia in order to raise awareness about the ways that humans can better protect these species’ habitats. She leads the Conservation Institute at Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium, teaches biology at Sewanee: The University of the South, writes books about freshwater fish, runs summer youth programs and conducts field research. Through the aquarium, George has adopted a project to reintroduce lake sturgeon, a freshwater fish, to the rivers of her home state of Tennessee, from which they disappeared more than 50 years ago. She often uses their release to give school groups hands-on biology lessons.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

George emphasizes that her role is as much about passing on information as it is about conducting research. “The challenge that I enjoy is communicating with people,” she says. “I get so excited and want to share everything I know!”

Through experiential teaching methods and her love for all things aquatic, Anna George inspires others to tap into their inner fish. “We all share this passion for nature,” she says, adding, “we have to learn how to balance our passion for nature with sustainability.”

October/November 2013 Newsbites

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by Rachel

Community Meetings in Virginia Confront Water and Mine Blasting Problems

Over the summer, the Appalachian Water Watch program partnered with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to host community meetings around southwest Virginia. Meetings were held once a month, moving between Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan counties, with each meeting tailored to address specific concerns within that community. Now, we are helping individuals who attended these meetings to address problems with water contamination and blasting from nearby surface mines. We were able to connect the impacted citizens with our water monitoring program and our Appalachian Water Watch Alert System to help report and monitor contamination issues in their areas. To learn more, visit

Photo Exhibit to Benefit Appalachian Voices

Photographer Rachael Bliss will present her experience of life on a sustainable Appalachian farm in a special exhibit titled, “Down on the Farm,” on display at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville until the end of October. The collection of images documents a period of time she spent on her daughter’s sustainable farm in Knoxville, Tenn. For the second consecutive year, Bliss has offered to donate a portion of profits from her exhibition to Appalachian Voices. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to have the continued support of such a talented photographer.

To view Bliss’s work, visit her Blissingstoyou Facebook page, or her website at Bliss can be contacted at 828-505-9425, or through the church at 828-252-8729. The church is located at 20 Oak Street in Asheville and is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Outreach and Education Efforts in the Region

Our campaign teams are working hard this year to provide education and assistance on a variety of topics.

In Tennessee and Virginia, we’re opposing proposed new mountaintop removal mines (see p. 20) at public meetings, through formal comments and by working with our partners to mobilize citizen voices to save our mountains.

Our Energy Savings for Appalachia program is reaching out to electric cooperatives in the Southeast, garnering support for statewide pilot programs that can finance energy efficiency improvements for homeowners. Stay tuned for the fall launch of our online Energy Savings Action Center!

And in North Carolina, our Red, White & Water crew has been meeting with people living near coal ash ponds, assisting residents who are seeking protection from water contamination.

Hellos and Goodbyes

Kara Dodson


Appalachian Voices is excited to welcome several new staff to the team. Jonathan Harvey joins us from Charleston, W. Va., to serve as our new director of development. Kara Dodson, a former intern with our Appalachian Water Watch team and a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, will be serving as our new field coordinator, collaborating with volunteers and recruiting new members to further our work in the Appalachian region.
Sarah-KellogKimber Ray

We also would like to welcome our 2013-14 Project Conserve Americorps members, both of whom will serve an eleven-month term through July of next year. Kimber Ray is serving as our communications associate and the associate editor of The Appalachian Voice, while Sarah Kellogg will act as the outreach associate for the Red, White & Water and Energy Savings programs.
Sandra Diaz

And lastly, we would like to bid a fond farewell to Sandra Diaz, who has served in many capacities at Appalachian Voices for the past seven years, most recently as the coordinator of our Red, White & Water and North Carolina campaigns. Her extensive knowledge, phenomenal volunteer organizing skills, and irrepressible “green fire” will be greatly missed. We wish her the best of luck in her new ventures.

Learn more about these folks and the rest of our staff at

Oct./Nov. issue of The Appalachian Voice is here!

Thursday, October 25th, 2012 - posted by molly

Every two months, a truck loaded with 61,000 new issues of The Appalachian Voice arrives at our office in Boone, N.C., and we gather ‘round — not just to haul the hefty bundles inside, but to see how our carefully chosen cover image looks in full color.

Click here to flip through the print version.

The striking image of Larry Gibson on this issue’s cover is one way that we can honor the Keeper of the Mountains — a true hero whose bold tenacity in the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining inspired citizens around the nation to take action, including many of our staff and volunteers. Appalachian Voices’ Campaign Director Lenny Kohm pays tribute to Larry Gibson on page 3. And don’t miss the note from photographer Paul Corbit Brown on the inside cover.

Motivated by the popular saying, “you protect what you love, and love what you know,” we devoted ten pages of this issue to education. These special Growing Up Green stories shine a light on the ways youth are connecting to and learning about the Appalachia that we know and love.

Teaching the Natural World

Friday, October 19th, 2012 - posted by molly

By Molly Moore

Two Yancey County, N.C., students eagerly examine a rock for signs of life

It’s 9:30 a.m., and the sun has yet to offer its full warmth to the fifth-grade class clustered along the bank of the North Toe River in Spruce Pine, N.C. Several students warily eye the chilly current and one girl pulls her arms into her sweatshirt, insulating herself from the cool morning.

But any trepidation vanishes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Gary Peeples starts them on a Waterbug Safari, an activity that explores the river’s creepy-crawly inhabitants. Within minutes, the kids are sloshing around, scooping water samples and bringing live creatures to a nearby table. One student catches a baby dragonfly and the group learns that it “takes water in through its mouth and squirts it back out of its butt.”

Activities like this are a classic example of get-your-feet-wet environmental education. There are no dire warnings about the ecological perils of disturbing the riverbed, and when a student brings an Asian clam to the table, “Those are bad because they’re not from around here” provides an introduction to the problems of invasive species. The details can wait — today’s goal is to facilitate interest in the water cycle, and the river is just feet away.

“Who’s having the best day of school in their entire life?” Peeples calls out. Every hand shoots into the air.

Byron Hamstead, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intern, helps students in another county identify stream insects during a morning of outdoor education activities. The types of insects in a river can be a useful indicator of water quality. Photos by Gary Peeples/USFWS

Curiosity about the natural world has been a part of childhood education long before President Nixon passed the first National Environmental Education Act in 1970. But encouraging students to understand ecosystems and their role in them has never been more imperative.

A ten-year study published in 2005 found that although most American adults were aware of simple environmental issues, their understanding of moderately complex environmental and energy topics was downright abysmal. According to the study, forty-five million Americans thought the ocean was a source of fresh water. Just 12 percent passed a basic energy awareness quiz. Perhaps most sobering, the researchers estimated that only one or two percent of the population were capable of investigating and making decisions about complex natural-resources issues.

The problem with environmental education isn’t lack of public support. According to the study, ninety-five percent of Americans stand behind learning about natural systems and about 85 percent believe that studying the natural world builds character, enhances science learning, encourages community service and creates more environmentally-aware adults.

But even memorable learning experiences such as the Waterbug Safari run up against familiar obstacles: tight school budgets, the dominance of standardized tests, and overburdened teachers facing these challenges.

Some teachers counter these hurdles directly. Kelly Chapman teaches fifth grade at Deyton Elementary in Mitchell County, N.C., and every year she finds a grant to supplement classroom curriculum with experiential instruction methods. “I’ve become a different teacher from being able to have the hands-on material,” she says. “I’m a hands-on learner myself.”

Her students participate in the Waterbug Safari as part of the annual Toes in the Toe Watershed Discovery, a program comprised of six activity stations for all fifth graders in a two-county region. The workshops meet state education guidelines, and because the event is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local environmental group Toe River Valley Watch, it’s affordable for schools.

Organizations dedicated to outdoor learning play a role as well. Ryan Olson, executive director of nonprofit program Muddy Sneakers, is optimistic about the future of environmental education. His outlook is buoyed by federal initiatives such as President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and bi-partisan efforts to pass the No Child Left Inside Act, a bill that would give states incentives for prioritizing environmental topics and outdoor experiences in schools.

According to Olson, now is the time for advocates to ensure that state-level plans are applied in a way that stays true to the movement’s outdoor, hands-on roots.

Classes participating in Muddy Sneakers commit to at least six outdoor-learning “expeditions” each school year. Most are on publicly or privately protected lands within a half hour of the school, which exposes kids and their families to nearby natural treasures, and a few expeditions take place in the schoolyard, engaging youngsters with their immediate surroundings.

Once outdoors, students embark on activities such as trying to insulate boiling water in the woods to learn about energy conservation, and talking about how that heat relates to energy sources such as camp stoves and the sun. Add in a perk like brewing pine needle tea, and it’s hard to imagine that a multiple-choice worksheet would make a similar impression.

The energy conservation and transfer topic is a new addition to North Carolina’s fifth grade education standards. In fact, Muddy Sneakers has incorporated four subjects into its program that are new to the 2012-2013 curriculum. Staying on top of changes to state education standards and bringing in trained outdoor education instructors provides a service to teachers and students, Olson says. Classroom teachers often aren’t exposed to experience-based education methods or encouraged to take students outside, and because science can be an intimidating subject, teaching it in an unusual setting can make some traditional teachers uncomfortable.

If administrators are concerned that spending time away from the desk will lead to slipping scores on standardized tests, Olson has an answer for that, too. He offers a report that shows year-end scores in science, math and reading are significantly higher among classes participating in Muddy Sneakers. Gains in science are particularly high — about 25 percent more students in participating classes meet or exceed state science standards.

Those numbers tell part of the story, but the mission of environmental education is also to increase kids’ familiarity with the natural world and encourage their explorative instincts. Olson says today’s students are often afraid of being hurt or lost in the forest, so the programs begin with a day designed to put them at ease. Once students feel prepared for challenges such as approaching thunderstorms, bee stings and going to the bathroom outside, the following lessons proceed more smoothly.

Perhaps ten years ago fifth graders didn’t need to be taught how to use the outdoor bathroom. But, as a growing body of research affirms, many of today’s kids are increasingly removed from their own backyards. Despite that distance, these schoolchildren will need to understand their relationship to the natural world in order to make tough decisions about the future.

A coal train screeches beside the curving North Toe River as the Waterbug Safari students splash about, searching for insects and squealing when one net incidentally catches a fish. One day they will be responsible for the river’s health; today they are saying hello.

Kids in the Creek: Connecting Youth to Their Watersheds

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 - posted by molly

Alan Felker, eighth grade science teacher at Hardin Park Middle School in Boone, N.C., believes it’s important to expose kids to the environment around them. In North Carolina, eighth grade students are required to study state river basins and water quality issues. Felker took this opportunity to expose his students to our local and regional water programs.

Erin Savage, Appalachian Voices’ Water Quality Associate, spent a day in Felker’s classes talking with the students about topics ranging from protecting the Watauga River from pollution to Clean Water Act litigation in Kentucky. Later in the week, we assisted with a field trip to a site along the New River, where students learned to measure stream velocity and turbidity, and identify macro invertebrates. After completing the lab, students cleared several bags of trash from that section of the New.

Middle-school students inventory the water.

Hands-on activities are connecting students at Hardin Park Middle School in Boone, N.C. to their watersheds and helping them learn about issues ranging from water pollution to Clean Water Act litigation. Photo by Erin Savage.

“The New River is in our backyard, yet many students have never really explored the wonders of this important river system,” says Felker.

In the spring of 2012, Felker’s students will begin a study of Hardin Creek and explore the possibilities of restoring sections of the creek between Hardin Park and Watauga High School. Felker strives to not only educate his students, but also show them how they can have a positive effect on their environment.