The mountains of Western North Carolina offer more than 3000 miles of rivers, lakes and streams, making this area a premier destination for fishermen and anglers from across the country. The crystal clear waters brimming with freshwater trout play an indispensable role beyond sport and tourism, though. Increasing awareness and mindfulness of this vital resource is the goal of Trout in the Classroom, an educational program that’s recently found a home in Cashiers.
Rotarian Justin Souma introduced the Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley to the program, which is an off-shoot of Trout Unlimited’s non-profit educational initiatives. TU is America’s leading organization dedicated to the conservation of freshwater streams, rivers, and associated upland habitats for trout and salmon.
Throughout the school year, students participating in the Trout in the Classroom program raise trout from eggs to fry and then release them into approved cold water streams and lakes. This act of raising, monitoring, and caring for young trout fosters a conservation ethic within participating students as well helping them to develop an understanding of the connectivity of various ecosystems and an appreciation for their shared water resources.
Souma, who helped start Trout in the Classroom chapters in Charlotte, NC and Macon, GA, noted that while the immediate goal of the program is to increase student knowledge of water quality and coldwater conservation, its long-term goal is to reconnect an increasingly urbanized population of youth to the system of streams, rivers, and watersheds that sustain them.
Nowhere is this lesson better learned than in our own backyard. Max Lanning, a science teacher at Blue Ridge Early College, got interested in the program after reading about the program in place at Cullowhee Valley School last year. Lanning, himself a graduate of BREC and of Western Carolina University, knew the program had application across the broader subjects, of Biology, Chemistry and Earth Science and even more specifically to the NC Wildlife curriculum taught at the school.
“My first period Chemistry students check the water chemistry every morning, including temperature, pH, ammonium, nitrite and nitrate levels,” said Lanning. “We also periodically perform water changes and add various amendments, including nitrifying bacteria, to maintain appropriate levels.”
Even more important than the day-to-day care and feeding of the trout, though, is the conservation education value of the program. “It’s incredibly relevant to where we live,” said Lanning, “as the populations of Brook Trout – the only trout species native to the area – are in decline. So the project has been both educational and fun and the students have really taken interest and responsibility in it.”
Trout Unlimited hopes that fun is just the beginning. By the next generation, they hope to ensure robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish are once again thriving within their North American ranges. Trout in the Classroom is helping to reach that goal today, so that tomorrow’s children and students can enjoy healthy fisheries and ecosystems.
For more information on Trout in the Classroom or how you can help start a chapter in a school near you, visit TroutInTheClassroom.org.