2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

Every year, MountainTrue recognizes five individuals from across the Southern Blue Ridge as our regional Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham award winners. We look forward to celebrating these exceptional MountainTrue volunteers at our 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 12, 2022:

High Country Volunteer of the Year: Hayden Cheek

Hayden (pictured above) works at a local fly shop in Boone, NC. He’s an excellent angler and guide, and he often goes above and beyond to take care of his local waterways. His practice of giving back and leaving our rivers and woods better than he finds them permeates his friendships, work relationships, and his career. He’s a consistent water quality volunteer with our High Country water quality team and his impact is being passed on to those fortunate enough to spend time with him on the trail or in the river. Thanks so much for all you do, Hayden!

Central Region Volunteer of the Year: Jim Clark

Jim Clark has been helping us clean up the French Broad River for years. He’s been a Swim Guide volunteer for nearly ten years and has been a part of our microplastics sampling team from the very beginning. The data he’s gathered at Pearson Bridge has helped to get the new Real-Time E. coli Estimator (created in partnership with NCDEQ) up and running. He’s gone out of his way to keep trash out of the river, including lugging dozens of heavy, muddy tires out of its reach. Thanks for all your hard work to make the river a better place, Jim!

Western Region Volunteer of the Year: Stacey Cassedy

This year, Stacey has volunteered with both of our Adopt-A-Stream water quality monitoring programs (water chemistry and E. coli) and our Swim Guide program. Stacey’s unwavering dedication to our weekly Swim Guide sampling program helped many folks from across the Western Region know where it was safe to swim this summer! When her sampling site failed for the first time in August, she returned to resample and continued to check and photograph the beach for several additional days to monitor the source of the pollution: goose droppings! Stacey has offered to help with festival tabling events and is interested in doing anything needed to help with MountainTrue’s mission, particularly in the water quality program area. She’s a true super volunteer!

Southern Region Volunteer of the Year: Don Cooper

When Don learned about high bacteria levels in his community’s local waterways, he sprung to action and rallied the support of his fellow Rotarians. With his leadership, dozens of volunteers collected hundreds of water samples from streams in and around Hendersonville over the last several years. The data generated from his efforts helped us isolate the sources of bacteria pollution and direct our advocacy resources in the right direction to make meaningful change for water quality and public health. Thank you so much for your leadership, Don!

The 2022 Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Grady Nance

This award is given each year in honor of one of our organization’s founders, Esther Cunningham. Esther bravely stood in the face of opposition, rallied her community to stand with her, and tirelessly fought to protect and defend the forests of Western North Carolina. 

Grady and his wife, Kathleen, have been MountainTrue members since 2015. In that time, Grady has repeatedly stepped up to support MountainTrue and our region in a number of ways.  Grady spent his career in the electric utility industry and has been a crucial resource to our energy-focused work, especially as we were working both in opposition to and in partnership with Duke Energy. Grady also served on the Henderson County Environmental Advisory Committee for several years, pushing the county to do more in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Grady has served on MountainTrue’s board as our treasurer since 2019. He has acted more like a CFO than just a board member and has been enormously helpful as our budget and the complexity of our budgeting have grown. Grady also says yes to every request we make of him. He has been a thoughtful, conscientious, and diligent board member and treasurer, and we will miss him terribly when he rolls off the board at the end of this year. Because of his commitment and service to MountainTrue and his dedication to the environment, we are pleased to award him with the 2022 Esther Cunningham Award.

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

MountainTrue has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Pigeon River Fund to create a new website that provides the public with real-time water quality estimates at Pearson Bridge on the French Broad River in Asheville, NC. The website combines existing technology and new mathematical modeling to estimate E. coli conditions in real time. 

The modeling correlates water turbidity data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey with MountainTrue’s and DEQ’s E. coli data at Pearson Bridge. The French Broad River at Pearson Bridge is now one of the few places in the country to have a real-time E. coli estimate modeling system.

“The goals of the WNC Recreational Monitoring program are to empower and enhance the existing community of environmental organizations already monitoring water quality in WNC, while expanding the Department of Environmental Quality’s analytical abilities to shorten the turnaround time in E. coli analyses and further refine risks associated with elevated bacteria levels,” said Landon Davidson, Division of Water Resources Regional Manager. “Near real-time calculations of bacteria levels are valuable to users because rapid changes in river conditions can increase bacteria levels significantly.” For more information on the State’s WNC Recreational Water Quality program, visit the DEQ website.

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson explains, “Summer is when river recreation is most popular, but it’s also when afternoon thunderstorms can roll in, cause significant runoff and drastically change water quality. This new technology helps eliminate that uncertainty by providing the public with real-time estimated bacteria levels so that they can make informed decisions about whether or how to spend time on the river.”

The French Broad River Watershed is one of the most popular water-based recreation areas in North Carolina. On any given warm day, the French Broad Watershed hosts thousands of tubers, swimmers, canoers, kayakers, anglers, and whitewater boaters. Recreators frequently wonder how clean the river is and if it’s safe to swim or paddle. 

As part of its existing Swim Guide program, MountainTrue publishes E. coli data each week from May to September on the Swim Guide platform. MountainTrue utilizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved IDEXX method for collecting and analyzing water samples and compares the results against the safe standard for health determined by the EPA. 

MountainTrue samples for E. coli because it’s the best indicator for the presence of microbes that pose threats to human health, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fever.

While the Swim Guide program provides high-quality data, it suffers from a time lag, as E. coli samples take 18-24 hours to incubate. Water quality can vary significantly from week to week or even day to day. E. coli levels can change quickly with heavy rains, as stormwater triggers runoff from agriculture, sewer overflows, and failed septic systems. Swim Guide data taken from MountainTrue’s Pearson Bridge sampling site over the past month illustrates this problem. During a relatively dry period in June, E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge were well below the safe standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). July’s heavy thunderstorms have caused E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge to spike significantly, including being over 25 times the EPA’s safe standard on July 13. 

As our mountain region experiences increased high-intensity rain events as a symptom of climate change, developing a model that provides E. coli estimates to the public is important. The French Broad Riverkeeper says MountainTrue and DEQ want folks to have the resources they need to make more informed decisions about when and how to recreate the French Broad River. Now, this will be possible thanks to the real-time E. coli estimator model and the USGS Pearson Bridge turbidity gage data on which it is based.  

These real-time estimates will also help the French Broad Riverkeeper and DEQ track sources of pollution as they continue working together to bring about a cleaner French Broad River. Visit frenchbroadwaterquality.com to view results in real time. Visit theswimguide.org/affiliates/french-broad-riverkeeper/ to view MountainTrue’s weekly Swim Guide results from across the French Broad River Watershed. 

Sewage Spill in the Broad River? Check the Classifieds!

Sewage Spill in the Broad River? Check the Classifieds!

Check the Classifieds!

Disclaimer: this is not a sewage spill warning!

Thankfully, no recent sewage spills have been reported in the Broad River. Last week’s Broad Riverkeeper social media posts about high bacteria levels in the Broad got some folks wondering about bacteria levels and sewage spills. Heavy rainfall does cause E. coli levels in the Broad to rise, and sewage spills do occasionally occur after very heavy rain events. However, higher E. coli levels do not always signify a sewage spill.

In the event of a sewage spill, state law requires the wastewater treatment plant or municipality to inform the local public by placing a classified ad in a local printed newspaper.

Stay safe and informed on your river adventures.

This classified ad was printed in the Shelby Star on October 13, 2018, after nearly 45,000 gallons of untreated wastewater were discharged into the Second Broad River on October 11. The wastewater treatment plant was not required to directly notify your Broad Riverkeeper, the Broad River Greenway, or downstream neighbors. The treatment plant was also not required to place any signage downstream where folks might be accessing the river.

The protocol is an antiquated system for public notification of potentially dangerous pollution events. NC riverkeepers are urging the state to upgrade this system by utilizing more current communication methods like social media posts, email and text alerts, or a website. We’ll keep working to bring about a better system, but until then, make sure you know where to find potential future sewage spill notices in your local paper.

Halfway Through Swim Guide Season 2022 – Watauga Riverkeeper

Halfway Through Swim Guide Season 2022 – Watauga Riverkeeper

Watauga Riverkeeper Report:

Swim Guide Season 2022

We’re officially halfway through this year’s Swim Guide season!

Scroll on and check out these handy graphics to learn more about our High Country E. coli facts and figures and find out which Watauga Riverkeeper sampling sites have the lowest and highest E. coli averages. We’ll continue to post our weekly results on the Swim Guide platform until September. 

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Riverkeeper Float Fest Returns on August 20, 2022!

Riverkeeper Float Fest Returns on August 20, 2022!

2022

Riverkeeper Float Fest

Come out on Saturday, August 20, for the long-awaited return of the Riverkeeper Float Fest, sponsored by Appalachian Mountain Brewery and hosted by River & Earth Adventures.

About the event

This family-friendly event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m at River & Earth Adventures‘ New River Outpost in Todd, NC. Appalachian Mountain Brewery will offer local craft beer, food, and live music. Riverkeeper Float Fest proceeds benefit MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper. 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, so this year’s event will be a great way to celebrate this landmark legislation while supporting clean water in the High Country!

We encourage attendees to take advantage of the free shuttle provided by River & Earth Adventures or to have a DD assigned in their group. More event details:

Location

River & Earth Adventures New River Outpost:

6201 Castle Ford Road Todd, NC 28684

Times

Event: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tubing: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Live music: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Nature Walks and Talks: 11-11:30 a.m. and 2-2:30 p.m. 

Fly fishing clinic: 12-12:30 p.m. with Boone’s Fly Shop

Essentials

  • Payment options: cash or card  
  • Reusable water bottle 
  • Blanket/chair
  • For tubers: sun protection, towel, change of clothes, river shoes/sandals (please no flip flops), bag for spare clothes, dry bag for phone/keys

Shuttles

Shuttle pick-up/drop-off: ASU Peacock Traffic Circle. Shuttles provided by River & Earth Adventures will take attendees directly to the Float Fest location. 

Tubers: a separate tubing shuttle will pick you up at the end of your tubing trip and bring you back to the Float Fest. 

Parking - Shuttles

Free parking will be available in the lots surrounding the shuttle pick-up/drop-off location.  

Parking - Outpost

Limited parking is available across the street from River & Earth Adventures in Todd, NC (on the left if coming from HWY 421). 

Activities

This riverside fest will offer volleyball, cornhole and other outdoor games, as well as opportunities for tubing on the New River with River & Earth Adventures. Boone’s Fly Shop and High Country Guide Service will provide fly fishing demos. Riverkeeper Float Fest attendees can also enjoy environmental education activities led by the Watauga Riverkeeper and MountainTrue staff, including Nature Walks and Talks and opportunities to look at the New River’s underwater habitats using viewbuckets (pictured).

Get your Riverkeeper Float Fest shirt

Preorder sales concluded Thursday, August 4, 2022. If you preordered your limited edition t-shirt, you’ll be able to pick it up on the day of the event. 

Volunteer

Volunteers will receive a Riverkeeper Float Fest t-shirt and free tubing at the event. Volunteer shifts are 2.5 hours and we have multiple volunteer categories. 

2022 Riverkeeper Float Fest tickets

Tubing tickets: $25 preorder, $30 day-of (includes tubes and shuttle at River & Earth Adventures Outpost)

General admission: $5

Designated Drivers: FREE

Kids 10 & Under: FREE

If the event is canceled due to weather concerns, a raincheck will be given to each ticket holder (redeemable with River & Earth Adventures at a later date). 

What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

Testing Sites

River Basins

Counties

States

Protecting our mountain waters wouldn’t be possible without the help of members, volunteers, and supporters like you.

With your help, we will maintain E. coli sampling at 85 popular swimming areas this summer. Samples will be taken, processed, analyzed, and published on the easy-to-use Swim Guide website and smartphone app before starting your weekends!

Will you help us monitor and report water quality conditions at popular swimming areas this summer? Consider making a donation today.

Our goal is to raise $20,000 by May 30 to help fund this summer’s Swim Guide E. coli sampling program. Each sample costs $30, which includes staff time, supplies, lab analysis, and travel expenses. Businesses or organizations can fully sponsor a site for $500/year with recognition on the Swim Guide platform and social media.   

“I like to paddleboard, so water quality is important to me. People need a tool like the Swim Guide app to know when the water is safe. My friends and I care about sharing these results and letting community members know about this amazing tool. MountainTrue addresses pollutants they find in the river and advocates for better policies that will protect it.” 
-Tiffany Narron, Swim Guide Volunteer
“I love getting outside and helping our Riverkeepers by taking water samples, and it’s especially rewarding to see the results posted within 24 hours so my friends and I know the water conditions before the weekend.” 
-Erica Shanks, MountainTrue Board Member and Swim Guide Volunteer
“I’m a hardcore river enthusiast, spending a lot of time canoeing and paddleboarding. I need to know if the water I’m playing in is safe. I appreciate how local this is to the High Country. It’s awesome to know where it’s safe and have that knowledge be current for my family and dogs. I love the sampling side because I get to feel like I’m contributing.” 
Jordan Sellers, Swim Guide Volunteer
“The City of Hiawassee strives to have the best water quality. Being out on the lake and knowing it’s safe to boat, swim, and fish in is important. We really appreciate our relationship with MountainTrue.” 
Liz Ordiales, Mayor of Hiawassee, GA

We want you and your family to be able to visit publicly accessible swimming areas without having to worry about health risks. Swim Guide makes it easy for people to know when their water is contaminated and when it is safe to swim, giving our community the information needed to prevent waterborne illnesses. Our sampling will also help us identify problem areas where work is needed to improve water quality for the future.

Will you stand with MountainTrue? We need you to take action today so our waters can be healthy today and for generations to come. Help us reach our $20,000 goal by donating today.

From all of us on the MountainTrue Clean Water Team, thank you for making this summer swim season the safest one yet!