Laura England, lecturer in Appalachian State University’s Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development, is a self-professed “creek-geek”. Fascinated by land-water connections—she studied changing land-use effects on headwaters in the southern Appalachians as a graduate student and previously worked for a wetlands-focused non-profit—she’s concentrated her research and teaching around this topic. In fall 2014, England was tapped by the university’s Sustainability Council to become chair of the outreach and engagement subcommittee. The council officially adopted a segment of Boone Creek downstream from campus, and in her role, she’s led hundreds of volunteers in the cleanup effort each semester.
“The cleanup effort is fun to coordinate because the Appalachian community is so responsive to these kinds of volunteer opportunities,” she said. “Our crew always includes a good mix of students, faculty and staff. Even on rainy days, we get at least 35 volunteers.”
Because of the volunteer interest, she’s expanded the scope of the cleanup to include an extended segment of Boone Creek, a segment of Hodges Creek, a segment of Wilson's Creek and the perimeter of the Boone Mall parking lot.
“Our creek cleanups are downstream from campus, so some of the trash that we find is undoubtedly ours” she continued. “The cleanups give my students and others an up-close look at the plight of an urban stream, and provide an opportunity for positive action to help address one of its ailments.”
England and her students find a variety of refuse in the creek, from shoes and blue jeans to car parts, traffic cones and even the occasional dollar bill. During the twice-per-year cleanups, the volunteers generally pull between 500-1000 pounds of trash from the creek.
And, some of the trash will be used for a unique purpose. England was approached by Tom Hansell, an assistant professor at the Center for Appalachian Studies, about repurposing the refuse her volunteers found in the creek. Hansell’s Sustainability and the Arts in Appalachia class has partnered with the Turchin Center and the New River Conservancy to create an art exhibit opening in February 2017. The class is working directly with Turchin Center Curator Mary Anne Redding, who is also enrolled in the Hansell’s course, to build a sculpture from some of the trash collected from the October creek cleanup. The sculpture will be part of the exhibit “Collective Vigilance: Speaking for the New River” and will be open to the public in the Mayer Gallery at the Turchin Center from Feb. 3-July 29, 2017. For more information about the exhibit, visit http://tcva.org/.
About the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University prepares students to thoughtfully analyze human development while focusing on the applied practice of pursuing transformative, community-driven development and social change. It offers a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable development with concentrations in agroecology and sustainable agriculture; community, regional and global development; and environmental studies; as well as a Bachelor of Arts and minor in sustainable development.