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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — Nine students from Young Harris College recently developed the Southern Appalachian Snorkeling Trail and wrote a guidebook for the trail as a result of their research on preserving the region’s water quality by promoting native fish diversity and ecotourism. Over the past few months, the students have presented their work in Washington, D.C., Cordele, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina.

The students include Caroline Cox, Aubrey Crowell, Mallory Downs, Darrien Henson, Mark Howington, Robert Moser, Harrison Scott, David Thompson and Hannah Walker. YHC Associate Professor of Biology and Program Coordinator for Environmental Science Dr. Johnathan Davis advised the students.

“There’s an unusually high diversity of fish in Southern Appalachia,” said Dr. Davis. “Per area, we have the highest diversity of fish in the temperate world. This means we also have a high number of rare and endangered fish species. Because all fish require clean water, if we promote our region’s fish diversity, we also promote clean water. Additionally, the students’ guidebook aims to promote ecotourism in Appalachia, which is good for the environment and the local economy.”

The students studied ichthyology to learn how to identify different fish species. They also studied fish habitats and behaviors by snorkeling. Based on their learnings, the students drafted the snorkeling trail guidebook, which includes information about native fish diversity, conservation and threats in Southern Appalachia, descriptions of snorkeling sites, directions, maps, river information, and fish descriptions that include photos, appearance details and habitat information.

“My students developed this guidebook to make it easier for people to experience the fish diversity in our region,” said Dr. Davis. “We hope to have a completed version available later this year through the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition’s website.”

Dr. Davis and the students partnered with the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition on this project. The Coalition will help promote the guidebook to residents and tourists through local Chambers of Commerce.

This past year, the Appalachian Regional Commission designated Dr. Davis as an Appalachian Teaching Fellow. As a result, Young Harris College was one of 15 schools invited to participate in the Appalachian Teaching Project. YHC received a $4,500 grant for this project from the Appalachian Teaching Project, which allowed the students to travel to Washington, D.C. to present their work. While there, students were able to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and tour the world’s largest fish collection.

“I feel so honored to have represented YHC at the Appalachian Teaching Conference in D.C.,” said Caroline Cox, a senior from Richmond Hill, Georgia, who is majoring in environmental science. “It was so great to hear about the work that other schools are doing in Appalachia. Being able to present alongside my fellow classmates made me so proud of all the work that we had done to create the guidebook.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission’s mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia, and the Appalachian Teaching Project affords students a unique opportunity to develop critical skills in research, communication and leadership. Students work directly with their communities to promote sustainable development in Appalachia.

About Young Harris College

Young Harris College is a private baccalaureate and master’s degree-granting institution located in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Founded in 1886 and historically affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Young Harris College educates, inspires and empowers students through an education that purposefully integrates the liberal arts and professional studies. The College has three academic divisions: Arts and Humanities, Professional Studies, and Mathematics, Science and Technology, with more than 1,400 students enrolled in its residential and Early College programs. The historic campus in Young Harris, Georgia has completed major campus improvements to accommodate the College’s growth. LEED-certified campus improvements include the 121,000-square-foot Rollins Campus Center, residence facilities and a 57,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center. The College is an active member of the NCAA Division II and remains a fierce competitor in the prestigious Peach Belt Conference. For more information, visit