N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s State Advisory Council spent two days in Boone in November for the group’s fall meeting. The final day included tours of two sites in Watauga County where Extension has made a difference.
Wendy Patopstry, natural resources Extension agent in Watauga County, led SAC members on a tour of a constructed wetland area near the New River outside of Boone. The wetland was built on the site of a residential neighborhood that regularly flooded during heavy rains.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency bought 15 houses and a nursing home in the neighborhood to move residents out of harm’s way. To protect water quality in the New River, Patopstry worked with N.C. State University water quality specialists to develop the constructed wetland.
The wetland includes four pools where rainwater runoff from athletic fields nearby is filtered by soil and plants before making its way to the New River. After the site was excavated, volunteers helped plant mostly native vegetation in the site. Patopstry told SAC members that wildlife quickly found the wetland, including snapping turtles, dragon flies and even groundhogs.
The site is located near recreation areas, including a Boone greenway that runs along the New River. It has proven to be a valuable classroom for Extension programs and for school groups. This summer Watauga County was hit by heavy rains, and the community was reminded of the wetland’s value when the area flooded three times.
SAC members also visited Big Ridge Tree Farm, a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm in Foscoe. County Extension Director Jim Hamilton said the farm, owned by Thad Taylor’s family, is an example of the type of good practices that Extension likes to see in tree operations.
Taylor described how his family started growing trees as a hobby in 1985 on their land at 3,800 feet elevation. But as the trees began to grow, they realized they needed help with management, and called on Cooperative Extension in Watauga County.
Though some growers have expanded to provide trees for retail sales, Taylor’s operation is strictly choose and cut, with a few small-group fundraising sales. Beginning in late November, families make their way up the mountain to Big Ridge to choose a live tree from the field, have it cut and tied to their vehicle for transport home.
Guest visiting the tree farm can take a free hayride to a 100-year-old log cabin located on the farm property. SAC members had the opportunity to enjoy the hayride themselves before heading inside to warm up with cup of hot chocolate.