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Volunteers from Lake James Environmental Association have been assisting McDowell and Burke County schools conduct hands-on studies, including water quality and silt control, in our water bodies. Annually, approximately 500 McDowell County 8th graders and approximately 125 Burke County high school students have been involved. In addition, events have been held for elementary schools and special summer programs using similar activities.
The Kids in the Creek events use stations at the home schools and at water bodies for instruction. At one station in their school, students use our Enviroscape, a three-dimensional model of a section of topography, to study how humans contribute to problems with silt and pollution entering our streams, rivers, and lakes. They pursue ways to correct and prevent these issues.





At another station, our Groundwater Model is used to understand groundwater behavior and problems. Using it, they observe benefits of aquifers, how various wells work, problems with waste disposal, and behavior of water beneath the surface of the earth. Students note how their actions might have major effects miles away.





Using our posters and charts which contain various water topics, teachers and volunteers conduct discussions and writing activities. Students create ways that they can teach others these and other water related topics. Students explore means using technology, media, speaking, writing, music, and art to communicate and promote good stewardship of our natural resources. Hopefully, they will use “living by example” to encourage others.





About 150 students per day move through the stations along our waterway sites. Our sites have been the Catawba River along the James McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway in Marion and Paddys Creek at Lake James State Park.





At one station, students collect macroinvertebrates from the stream by holding D-nets on the bottom, downstream from their partners who are disturbing the bottom with their feet. Identification keys are used to identify their catch and to sort them into whether they are tolerant, moderately tolerant, or intolerant to pollution. Depending on the varieties and the quantities of each, they determine the water quality using the same method as career biologists.




Another station is used to collect data and calculate the rate of stream flow. By measuring the depth of water at many locations across the stream, they estimate the stream’s average depth. Using this and the width of the stream, they calculate the cross sectional area of the location. By timing several plastic eggs floating a given distance, they calculate the average velocity of the water. The area and velocity are then used to determine the stream flow. Their stream flow can be used along with the turbidity of the water to determine the amount of silt moving in the stream. Math teachers often assist with this station.




A third station is used for students to gain experience using modern electronic probes to collect chemical properties of the water in the stream. The water’s temperature, oxygen content, salinity, and velocity are some of the properties the students determine. At the site and in the classroom, students compare these measurements of water quality with the macroinvertebrates station results. Students discuss how these results can be short term, versus the macroinvertebrates showing long term results, making both important in understanding the water quality.






Often U.S. and State agencies are contacted to see if professionals are available to participate in the events. Combined with the variety of backgrounds of the LJEA volunteers, the students are exposed to many viewpoints of appreciation of our marvelous water in their communities. The interactions of the students, professionals, and volunteers benefit all involved.




If you are interested in having an event for your school or in volunteering to participate in one, contact Jack Raker at