It is said western North Carolina’s Pigeon River was named for the passenger pigeon, the now-extinct bird whose flocks were so large they would darken the sky and their fly-over could continue for days. Although the passenger pigeon is gone, the Pigeon River is home to the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel and serves as a flight corridor for the endangered gray bat as it seasonally migrates between eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
Because of its importance to these imperiled species, the Pigeon River is a priority river for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and since 2005, the Service’s Asheville Field Office has supported the annual Kids in the Creek educational event organized by Haywood Waterways, a local watershed group.
Working from a format first developed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Kids in the Creek event brings every Haywood County eighth-grade student out to the Canton Recreation Park, in Canton, N.C. where they spend half a day rotating through educational stations covering water quality, watershed health, fish, and aquatic invertebrates, with the students donning waders and hitting the Pigeon River for the fish and aquatic invertebrate stations.
Because of the river’s importance for the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel, the Service staffs the aquatic invertebrate station where students collect invertebrates from the river, work with biologists to identify them, and draw a rudimentary conclusion about the health of that river reach.