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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — Eight students from Young Harris College recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to present their research and experiences from a semester-long project about the importance of water quality in Southern Appalachia.

According to Bethany Kenney, a senior outdoor leadership major, students from both the environmental science and outdoor leadership programs collaborated to determine the standard quality of local water systems, noting the effect that nearby construction and industry has on water quality. The students then engaged with the surrounding community to raise awareness about maintaining and advocating for clean water practices. Emphasis was placed on the beauty, biodiversity and fragility of Appalachia’s rivers and streams. Clean water, stunning environments and healthy ecosystems draw tourists from around the country to observe and recreate in the unique space that is wild Southern Appalachia. This project demonstrated how local economies can take advantage of this asset by promoting protective measures for local waters.

The project, titled “Connecting Volunteerism, Science and Community Engagement to Protect Water Quality in a Southern Appalachian Watershed,” brought environmental science and outdoor leadership students together with the western region of MountainTrue, formerly the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC), to research and provide data-driven recommendations that address the need to balance economic development with protection of Appalachia’s natural water assets. MountainTrue will use the project results to prioritize future restoration initiatives within the watershed and better communicate with the greater community.

One project outcome found that Appalachian rivers and streams support a diverse and regionally distinct biological fauna. Students recommended maintaining and improving water quality to conserve natural biological assets and protect economic opportunities associated with these assets like fishing, swimming, canoeing, rafting and snorkeling.

The students who participated in the project include Thomas Campbell, Matthew Cowart, Mallory Downs, Mikayla Escamilla, Devin Filicicchia, Kelsie Floyd, Elizabeth Howell, Mark Howington, Bethany Kenney and Joshua Nachtrieb. The project advisers were Dr. Johnathan Davis, who serves as associate professor of biology and program coordinator for environmental science and environmental education and leadership, as well as Dr. Joseph Pate, who serves as associate professor of outdoor leadership and department chair for outdoor leadership at YHC.

“Being part of the Appalachian Teaching Project highlights the unique opportunities at Young Harris College for collaboration across various majors and disciplines to address real issues affecting Appalachian communities,” said Dr. Pate. “Through working on this project, Dr. Davis and I were not only able to share the talents, knowledge and impact YHC students have on local communities through engaging and relevant coursework, but we were also able to contribute to conversations around larger solutions for Appalachia with other colleges, universities and federal agencies. It was an incredible opportunity that everyone walked away from with larger perspectives and experiences.”

This past year, the Appalachian Regional Commission designated Dr. Davis and Dr. Pate as Appalachian Teaching Fellows. 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 National Archives; the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the National Gallery of Art; the Washington Monument; the Lincoln Memorial; the National Mall; and the National Portrait Gallery.

“From my experience with the Appalachian Teaching Project, a key takeaway of mine is the power of grassroots initiatives when considering environmental assets in Appalachia,” said Devin Filicicchia, a senior outdoor leadership major. “I have come to understand that when environmental issues and the concerns surrounding them are addressed with the local impact in mind, the community is often willing to support them.”

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 four academic divisions: Fine Arts; Humanities; Mathematics, Science and Technology; and Professional Studies. More than 1,400 students are enrolled in its residential and Early College programs. 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