May 2008 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories
May 22, 2008
The morning of May 17th saw a flotilla of 17 boats set out in the Toe River on an expedition to find the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel.
While state and federal biologists routinely monitor the presence of the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel in Western North Carolina streams, what set this effort apart was that it was made up largely of students from Mountain Heritage High School’s Eco-Club. Organized as a celebration of Endangered Species Day, which officially fell on May 16th, the trip included students, biologists from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and members of Toe River Valley Watch.
“We wanted to give the students an opportunity to see first hand the biodiversity found in the river, especially the endangered species found in their own backyard. It’s one thing to talk about a river, it’s another to feel the cold water around your legs, watch the fish around your feet, and see the big sky above. I hope at the end of the day, everyone on the trip had a deeper appreciation for the Toe River,” said John Fridell, the Service’s Appalachian elktoe expert who led the student’s search for the mussels.
The 19-member team floated an two-mile stretch of river, immediately upstream of the Toecane community on the Yancey-Mitchell County line using inflatable kayaks donated by Loafer’s Glory Rafting and Tubing which also donated shuttling services.
“From a science education standpoint, I think it was great that the students got to experience the river first hand with professional biologists. Perhaps it will encourage them to think about career possibilities,” said Mountain Heritage High School science teacher Gabrielle Riesner.
Over the course of the trip, the team stopped twice to look for elktoes, finding two, which the students were able to compare to the far more common Asian clam, an Asian mussel that has become prolific in Western North Carolina rivers. The trip also turned up a wavy-rayed lampmussel, a state species of concern known for its vibrant underwater displays, and a hellbender salamander.
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