New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee


Forest View students take personal view of nature

The Herald-Sun, January 25, 2006
© 2006 by The Durham Herald Company

by Gemma Mangione

You can't learn about the natural world from a book. At least, that's what Zachary Meredith seems to think.

“It's much better to go outside and see it,” said Zachary, an 8-year-old third-grader at Forest View Elementary School. “Nature makes all its own sculptures. I found part of a seed pod once and it kind of looked like a canoe.

“When you go out and explore nature, and then come back to learn about it, it's like you get to write the book, or make the book yourself, instead of having to read one written by other people,” he added.

The third-graders have begun to write a book about nature, specifically about New Hope Creek, a narrow waterway that runs from western Orange County, through parts of Durham and empties into upper Jordan Lake. Signe Brown, John Heffernan and Kathy Ravella's students presented their studies of the creek Wednesday at a 45-minute “informance”—or informational performance—for delighted parents, community members and fellow peers.

Students waxed poetic about fresh water nitrates, fern leaves and furry “creek critters” after warming up the crowd with a skit. Dressed as foxes, rabbits, crows and squirrels, the third-graders raced around the school's media center to the sounds of xylophones and conga drums.

Leslie Mata, 9, said she was glad to play her instrument when the “beaver” walked in.

“I wanted to play for the beaver because I kept remembering when we saw a beaver dam at the creek,” Leslie said. “We got to bring a part of it back to the classroom! I don't think that hurt the beaver, though. I hope not.”

Art teacher Marylu Flowers led the group that presented research on mosses, ferns and other creek plants. Two field trips have been taken to the area with the remaining two third-grade classes to go next month.

“We made journals, using yellows, greens and blues—you know, nature colors, to record our observations,” said Flowers with a grin. “After all, these are not just students. These are botanist illustrators!”

Wednesday also marked the one-year anniversary of the meeting that kicked off the New Hope Creek Park grass-roots campaign.

On Jan. 25, 2005, the Erwin Area Neighborhood Group met for the first time to discuss two tracts of land encompassing 43 acres at the corner of Erwin and Pickett roads. The more-than-400-member organization went on to raise $200,000 toward buying the land from Duke University, thereby saving it from townhouse development.

In November, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded a $1.1 million grant to Durham County to subsidize its purchase of the land. According to Wendy Jacobs, one of the leaders of the Erwin Area Neighborhood Group, the Triangle Land Conservancy contributed $75,000 and the remaining $325,000 was split among Chapel Hill, Orange County, city of Durham and Durham County governments.

“It's the kids that are really the first step toward building this park,” said Jacobs, Zachary's mother. “It's so neat to think we may one day have nature guides written by students, for students!”

John Heffernan, whose class will continue to study water quality throughout the rest of the school year, couldn't agree more.

“We are continuing to preserve New Hope Creek, continuing to honor the efforts of our community and local government, by teaching our children to be stewards of this land,” Heffernan said.

Durham resident B.B. Olive, a member of the New Hope Creek Advisory Committee, said he had “nothing but admiration” for the students' work.

“I remember in the 1960s a coalition of scientists issued a report that said there were more species of fish in New Hope Creek than in all of France,” Olive said. “These students are furthering the tradition of New Hope Creek as a research stream. I am proud of them. I am touched.”