WATR of the Tuckasegee River
By Joshua Polk
The drive south down Highway 107 from Cullowhee to Cashiers takes you right by Glenville Lake, the birthplace of one of the headwaters of the Tuckasegee River. The Tuckasegee, whose name is an anglicized pronunciation of an old Cherokee word meaning “turtle place," begins its course in Jackson County, not far from East LaPorte, where a creek flowing down from Glenville Lake meets up with the waters of Bear and Cedar Cliff lakes. It flows northward through the towns of Cullowhee and Webster, bypasses Sylva then shoots straight through Dillsboro where, just north of town, a loop around a mountain creates the river’s only rapids. The river finishes its journey at Fontana Lake on the Tennessee border, just west of Bryson City, where it then spills into the Little Tennessee River.
On Main Street in Bryson City, you will find the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, or WATR, a group of activists whose web site declares them to be a “grassroots organization working to improve the water quality and habitat of the Tuckasegee River.” Made up almost entirely of local volunteers, WATR was founded in 2004 to educate people about the importance of conservation and to take various measurements. I recently met with WATR’s director, Roger Clapp, who got his Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia and played high school football with Al Gore at St. Albans in D.C. during the early sixties.
“A creek is much more than just fish and water,” he told me, explaining that one of the big things that WATR does is called Macro-invertebrate monitoring. "There’s a whole teeming insect population and other small critters.” Specially-trained teams go to specific sites and take samples. “The state uses a measure of the diversity in the population of the macro-invertebrates as an indicator of stream health.”
WATR’s partnership with WCU includes a data sharing program with the Environmental Health Club here on campus and a few dedicated volunteers who help with activities like web site design and upkeep. Their main mission, however, is to educate and involve the public— “young singles, young parents, people with busy schedules.” One of WATR’s biggest goals is to really include everyone in all the dimensions of river appreciation. “A river can be an inspiration for painting and drawing, an inspiration for writing and creative writing, or it can be an inspiration of history,” Clapp explains.
“Reduce, reuse, recycle,” he adds. "Keep trash in its place, take a plastic bag with you when you go to the river so you can pick up garbage. The best way to take care of a river is to simply practice responsible environmentalism.” Landowners have the responsibility to use chemicals wisely and build natural buffers to provide shade and prevent erosion.
What can you do?
Students who volunteer with WATr should have the ability to conduct research and work well with others. Students, especially biology, geoscience, computer science, and social science students, work to collect and analyze data. Other students can work with landowners to reduce erosion and pollution, plant trees for three hours on Saturdays, greet and assist at Monday-night meetings, Help with stream clean-ups, assist in public communications by writing articles for the newsletter, developing public surveys, helping teach about water quality at elementary schools, and producing videos.
Anyone looking to get involved with WATR can get in touch with them on their website www.watrnc.org and find out about upcoming events. They are more than happy to take volunteers from any walk of life.