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A group of Waynesville Middle School students use a net to catch fish.

CANTON — The Haywood Waterways Association’s annual Kids in the Creek program celebrated its 20th year last month when all the eighth-grade students in Haywood County Schools waded into to Pigeon River at the Canton Recreation Park to learn more about the count’s waterways.

“At 650 [students] per year, we estimate 13,000 kids have been through the program,” said Eric Romaniszyn, executive director of HWA.

The Tennessee Valley Authority developed the program and passed it to watershed organizations around the nation.

“We have the second longest running program in the Tennessee Basin, the only one older is in Virginia,” said Romaniszyn. “We're even starting to see the kids of parents that first went through the program in its early years.”

Kids in the Creek exposes eighth-grade students to local waterways, giving them hands-on activities that increase awareness of the importance of clean water.

Students participate in four stations, each focusing on a different theme — the EnviroScape watershed model; water chemistry; fish; and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Romaniszyn says that HWA gives an environmental literacy survey to students before and after the experience. According to the 2016 results:

— 90 percent of students said Kids in the Creek helped them better understand what they learned in class about aquatic ecosystems;

— 83 percent said it changed their mind about how they should take care of natural resources like water; and

— 80 percent said they are likely to take action to protect and preserve our natural resources because of Kids in the Creek.

“We absolutely couldn't offer [Kids in the Creek] without the support of the Haywood County School System,” said Romaniszyn. “We try to gear it toward the eighth-grade curriculum so it benefits the teachers and the students.”

The program was fully funded by the Pigeon River Fund of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina during its first 15 years. The Haywood Waterways Association’s annual Polar Plunge has funded the program for the last five years.

Visit www.haywoodwaterways.org/kidscreek.html for more information about Kids in the Creek.

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