SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER

IMG_0729Here in the western Smoky Mountains, the rain has often skipped us this summer. No wonder when it started raining yesterday, we danced on the porch to the sound of drops on the metal roof. The garden turned its thirsty heads heavenward and drank in the beauty of a late afternoon shower. Our excitement was tempered by the thought of the folks in West Virginia who received too much too fast of the wet stuff.

Water is a stunning force and never doubt its ability to wield its power over anything in its path. It follows the road of least resistance, which sometimes means manmade things will never stand a chance. I respect its eminence and magnitude in our lives.

Early this morning found us in our kayaks on the Hiwassee River–yes, I’ve spelled that correctly. Here in western North Carolina the “a” is missing, but go ten miles into Georgia, and it is spelled “Hiawassee.” (From Chenocetah’s Weblog on Cherokee names: Both are from the Cherokee “a-yu-wa-si,” which means a meadow-like place, or a place with mostly low plants and few trees.) It’s anyone’s guess why. However you spell it or pronounce it, it shimmers in the morning sun and provides a peaceful cruise for two kayakers seeking beauty.

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Happy Fourth of July to all my fellow U.S. citizens and Merry Summer to all the rest of you. I hope you are enjoying blue skies, pleasant temperatures, and tranquil company.

Leave Gentle Giants Alone

manatee in Wakulla Springs near TallahasseeBy P.C. Zick

manatee in Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee
By P.C. Zick

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Florida manatees flock together in the winter as they head to warmer waters. As the temperatures dip in the ocean and river mouths, some water remains at a constant temperature. Power plants with their warm water discharges are an attractive gathering place for the sea cows, which can cause some confusion when boats need to come in and out of those areas. Manatees swimming near the rivers that lead to freshwater springs head to the 72 degree constant temperature of the water flowing up out of the Floridan aquifer.

It becomes life threatening when the large mammals don’t get to the warm waters in time. Cold-stress syndrome may cause the manatees respiratory problems as well as confusion.

Manatees are gentle creatures and unfortunately show little fear when around humans. But the biggest threat to the endangered species is man and his boats. Also, add humans who insist on touching, playing, and filming interactions with manatees.

One man found out recently that the cost of taking pictures of him hugging a young manatee and his children sitting on the calf’s back is quite high. Ryan William Waterman took his daughters to Taylor Creek in St. Lucie County, located on the east coast between Daytona and West Palm Beach. A young manatee, somehow separated from its mother, swam up to them. The young man took pictures of his children and him playing with the manatee. Then he posted the photos on Facebook.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found the pictures and arrested Mr. Waterman in February.

When my husband saw the photos, he said, “The manatee doesn’t seem to mind.”

Maybe. But the biologists with the FWC fear the manatee may have been separated from its mother too soon. Also, the calf exhibited signs of suffering from cold-stress syndrome. The manatee may not have minded or been afraid of the seemingly harmless play by humans, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s harmful in the long term, and as Mr. Waterman found out, it’s illegal.

The FWC issued a statement via a new release about the arrest, which states, “An interaction that may seem harmless and innocent may ultimately have serious consequences for manatees and other wildlife.”

In the case of manatees, the act of playing with the sea cow falls under the Florida Sanctuary Act making it illegal “to injure, harm, harass, capture, or attempt to capture” a Florida manatee. Violation of the Act is a second-degree misdemeanor with charges up sixty days in jail and a $500 fine.

The allure of the manatee and other animals of the wild is tempting, especially when we see them in controlled environments in zoos, theme parks, and aquariums.

But when wild animals lose their fear of humans, we become their enemy, not their friend.

Ohio River Watershed Celebration – Eleven Years of Good Stuff

The Ohio River is a Working River

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Rivers are vital to our lives. For decades, as we grew into an industrialized nation, we gave little regard to what we put into those rivers. Now, we understand we cannot destroy what gives us life. As a result, many of our rivers are slowly improving as we balance the needs of industry with the need for clean water.

I was heartened recently to attend the eleventh annual Ohio River Watershed Celebration  (ORWC) in Pittsburgh. ORWC is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Stream Restoration, Inc.Funding for the ORWC is provided by generous donations from private businesses, industries, foundations, and citizens.

Consol Energy was one of the major sponsors for the event.

The event’s goals are

  • To promote watershed stewardship, energy conservation, environmental education, and outreach.
  • To provide networking opportunities that form lasting partnerships among diverse community interests.
  • To celebrate and encourage environmental initiatives that support the continual recovery of the Ohio River Watershed in Western Pennsylvania and neighboring states through an enjoyable experience on the rivers.

This year’s event in late September brought out hundreds of students, parents, teachers, environmentalists, government officials, and business partners on a rainy Thursday afternoon. They gathered at the docks in downtown Pittsburgh, and without complaint about the soggy weather, boarded two cruise ships bound for the three rivers of the Steel City.

A rainy day in Pittsburgh

Ron Schwartz with Pennsylvania DEP told the crowd, “This rain is nature’s way of purifying the waterways.”

Nowhere is it clearer why a city exists where it does than in Pittsburgh. The Monongahela River flows from south to north to meet up with the south flowing Allegheny River. The two rivers meet at the Point in downtown, and the Ohio River forms and flows almost 1,000 miles westward to the Mississippi River. This year’s theme “Our Rivers – let’s get to the point” focused on how those three rivers shaped the course of the region.

The Point where three rivers converge

When coal was discovered in the hills above the convergence of the three rivers, the city was poised to become a giant during the Industrial Revolution. However, giants leave large footprints and within a few years of steel mills spewing out poisons into the air and water, Pittsburgh was a coughing and sputtering mess. The once bucolic journey of the rivers changed to an industrial highway.

Pittsburgh is home to the most bridges of any city in the world.

Thankfully, with deliberate consideration, the city has been reborn, and the rivers are testament to the rebirth. Fish and wildlife have returned.

Two cruise ships set sail from the docks. The Imagination Cruise overflowed with students waving from the upper decks of the Gateway Clipper fleet ship despite the pouring rain.

Imagination Cruise

Adults boarded the other ship for the Networking Cruise.

Networking Cruise Ship

Booths and presentations for both cruises provided information on how to protect watersheds. Other booths celebrated the joys of paddling the rivers and enjoying their recreational value. Yet others passed out literature on how to best maintain gardens and lawns while not harming the watershed. Before walking down the ramp to the docks, several vehicles in the parking lot showed visitors how gas guzzlers can become fuel efficient vehicles.

school bus

taxi

Mr. Rogers’ statute watched over the ships from the banks of the Allegheny River on the north shore. The man who made Pittsburgh his home taught us all to love our communities. It’s a great day in the neighborhood, rain or shine.

 

A View from the Creek

Raccoon Creek 2011Raccoon Creek May 2011

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Raccoon Creek winds for nearly thirty miles through the foothills of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania. During its course through valleys and woodlands, it picks up several tributaries flowing down the hillsides before it dumps into the Ohio River thirty miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

We recently kayaked five miles of the creek from outside Raccoon Creek State Park. We actually put in our kayaks in Little Traverse Creek in the park and paddled a short distance to Raccoon Creek which begins its flow seven miles upriver.

Downed trees made the first mile or so rather challenging but interesting. We managed to get by the majority but were forced to portage the kayaks twice – once pulling under a tree and once carrying over a split trunk of a large sycamore. We hit some small white water flows and a few places where stones and rocks required some fast maneuvering. It’s a pleasant cruise. As soon as a challenge is met, there’s a wide expanse of deep water and easy floating as the water carries the kayak downstream. We saw deer swimming across the creek. Great blue herons yakked in the air above us flushing out smaller birds from the bushes on the banks. Little blue herons sat on downed tree limbs basking in the sun. And catfish more than a foot long swam past us in the clear water.

Skipping stones

When I wasn’t figuring out how to wedge between tree limbs or how to dodge the large rocks on the riverbed, I gazed at the trees, birds and skies with gratitude and relief. At one point, tears filled my eyes when I considered how close we came to losing this creek. While it looks pristine now, it really isn’t. Surrounding us in the hills and in the woods are abandoned coal mines, both underground and strip mines on the hilltops. A decade ago, this creek was filled with acid mine drainage, and no birds sang. If fish swam, they were filled with toxins such as mercury and unfit for consumption by any living thing.

Since 1781, the entire area was mined for coal, and Raccoon Creek and all its tributaries were nearly killed by acids and metals draining from the abandoned mines. The Raccoon Creek Watershed covers 184 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania and Raccoon Creek runs right through the middle of it. After a report was released in 2000 on the levels of poisons in the creek, major efforts began, resulting in the installation of  acid mine drainage pollution treatment systems. Those efforts in the past decade have made a big difference here and elsewhere.

I brought my back up camera on the trip and took lots of pictures of Raccoon Creek and its abundance. As I prepared to write this blog, I couldn’t find the camera to download the pictures. I’m using photos from our trip last year when we attempted to kayak nearly the entire length of the creek. It ended two miles from our takeout point when we both collided into a fallen tree with a fast current moving underneath it.

The tree that took us out.

The rescued kayak from 2011

My kayak got away from me and our paddles floated along behind it. A rescue crew brought us home although the only thing rescued that day was my kayak.

Raccoon Creek is only navigable from March to June when the water is higher. We’ve been in a drought here for most of the spring and summer so we had to wait this year to get out until the rains brought the water level up high enough. Now we’ll have to wait until next year for our next cruise. Thanks to wise environmental practices now being implemented, the creek will be there waiting. And so will the wildlife.

A living creek