By Susan Dickson
Itâ€™s an area they know fairly well, so it made sense to let Frank Porter Graham Elementary School students lead visitors in an exploration of the frogs, fish and other stream creatures to be found in a newly preserved section of Morgan Creek tucked off of Fordham Boulevard.
Thanks to a conservation agreement announced at a ceremony Monday by the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Botanical Foundation, those childrenâ€”and their childrenâ€”will be able to enjoy the creek for years to come.
The agreement includes a conservation easement that establishes a 92-acre nature preserve along Morgan Creek from Merritt Pasture to Smith Level Road. As part of the agreement, the botanical garden has agreed to monitor the areaâ€™s natural elements on a yearly basis.
Following a signing ceremony and official dedication of the preserve, Frank Porter Graham fourth- and fifth-grade students led a group on a hike through Merritt Pasture to Morgan Creek, where they demonstrated water-quality sampling. Clad in knee-high rubber boots, the children sloshed through the creek with nets.
At one point, they caught a crayfish, responding with shrieks and screams. By the end of their visit to the creek, some of the students were holding the crayfish in their bare hands.
Livy Ludington, a science teacher at Frank Porter Graham, led the students in their demonstration.
â€œThis is what community is all about,â€ Ludington said. â€œFor us to have our children here is just so appropriate.
â€œTo have this conservation easement now, it means that our children will someday be able to be here with their grandchildren. It will always be here.â€
She said studying the creek and the life around it was important in teaching the children about being comfortable in the outdoors.
Fourth-grader Cameron Daddis said she felt lucky to be able to visit and study the creek. â€œOh my gosh, this is so pretty,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s beautiful.â€
Cameron said she was happy the area was being preserved so that she can continue to come out to the creek.
â€œThereâ€™s always a place where you can see nature,â€ she said, adding, â€œIâ€™ve been interested [in nature] ever since preschool.â€
Chapel Hill Town Council member Jim Ward, who is a member of the Council Committee on Conservation Easements, said the efforts to preserve the woodland corridorâ€”to which James Taylor paid homage in his song â€œCopperlineâ€â€”began nearly 30 years ago.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said the dedication â€œrepresents part of the subtle beauty of Chapel Hill,â€ noting that the preserve â€œis prime space for other kinds of activitiesâ€ for which the town has been offered â€œenormous sums of money.â€
However, Ward said that because of the â€œlong-term commitment of the citizens of Chapel Hill,â€ the land around the creek could be preserved.
Ludington said that studying the creek is part of the fourth-grade science curriculum, in which the children study the animals of North Carolina. She said the students were â€œlearning more about where they live,â€ adding that the children who were asked to come to the dedication â€œreally love the outdoors.â€
Judie Giguere, a teacher at Frank Porter Graham, said the students also have studied the creek where it runs behind the schoolâ€™s playground. Giguere said the children monitor the quality of the water in the creek by checking for the different types of invertebrates that are present in the water.
â€œScience is pretty much everything I do,â€ said Kinsey Fisher, one of the fourth-grade students at the ceremony. â€œIâ€™ve liked nature all my life.â€
Ward said the town will construct trails through the preserve over the next two years. Catherine Lazorko, Chapel Hill town information officer, said the preserve also will have a parking lot and access point near Fordham Boulevard.