Environmental Leadership Center
Warren Wilson College
Campus Box 6323
P.O. Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000
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By Hannah Franke Fuller
I am walking, barefoot, over a well-worn path scattered with the first of the years leaf litter. I have rolled my jeans up past my knees before I turn off of the path towards the sound of running water. Stepping lightly over jutting rocks, I make my way down to the stream’s edge. The water is cold when I first wiggle my toes in, but I soon get used to it. Upstream, almost out of my view, are a few other Warren Wilson College students that I can see in the creek, all enjoying the water, blissfully unaware that this tributary that feeds into the Swannanoa River, sadly, isn’t as clean as we think it is.
Warren Wilson College students in the Service Learning department have been working with the Swannanoa Watershed since August of 2011, testing the water’s content for fecal waste. These students have specifically been working with the Swannanoa River Keeper, Hartwell Carson.
Carson has worked for the Swannanoa Watershed for the past six years as the French Broad Riverkeeper. He is one of 172 Waterkeepers that are networked through the Waterkeeper Alliance. The Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Carson also works to monitor and clean up environmental pollution in the watershed. He educates, inspires, and empowers the citizens of the French Broad Watershed to revitalize this area into a place to live, work, and play.
Carson said, “Because river recreation has increased, movements to improve the river are higher.” He feels, in reference to citizens’ involvement, that sediment pollution awareness has improved as well.
Sadly, this is just movements and awareness. Carson added that, while his time working for the watershed has been short, overall the amount of pollution in the water has increased. This ties in to the Warren Wilson Service Learning Project and their fecal waste results. The river tested positive--animal fecal waste has made its way into the Swannanoa Watershed. Thankfully, secured funding will be used to establish a series of controlled grazing demonstrations accompanied by an educational program. Controlled grazing is a method for regulating how often and how much to graze in order to control the quality, yield, consumption and persistence of forage from pasture. Controlled grazing attempts to optimize animal performance and reduce wasted forage. It allows for alternative watering systems and better distribution of livestock away from streams. Vegetative areas will be installed or improved and will include such practices as establishing riparian buffers, easements, livestock exclusion, cropland conversion, critical area stabilization, tree planting, livestock watering facilities, livestock heavy use areas, and spring development to remove the waste from the water.
Carson, along with other members of the Swannanoa Watershed and volunteers are working hard to create a cleaner watershed that is aesthetically pleasing and functional as a place of recreation and relaxation. Hopefully, within Carson’s next six years of working for the Watershed he can proudly say it is a clean and safe family friendly place, a place where Warren Wilson students can safely swim and play in the water without the shadow of fear holding them back from doing something they find fun.