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Friends of the Smokies Telethon

You may know Friends of the Smokies has played a huge role in bringing elk back to the national park, but it also funds critical educational programs.

This summer, high school students are studying very tiny creatures. As News 13's Rex Hodge reports, they reveal a lot about the quality of air and water in the Smokies.

Sometimes, taking a closer look, teaches so much. Burgin Mackey, Madison County student, "and we're putting it under the microscope to take inventory on different micro-invertebrates."

Burgin Mackey is a rising high school junior, learning  along with a classroom full of fellow Madison County High School students about water and air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The lesson for the day, everything including bugs, worms, salamanders, and bears.

Ranger Susan Sachs works at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center on top of Purchase Knob.

Ranger Sachs, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, "our biggest issue with water quality here in the Smokies is linked to our air pollution problem."

She says the clear smokestacks act in North Carolina has improved air quality, the sulphur content is down a little, but she says ammonia and mercury are up.

By studying these tiny creatures, these students are helping keep track, "with student groups, if we start to notice shifts or changes then we can call in the researchers to ask the deeper questions."

Emily Heubel, Madison County student, "at one stream that we tested the quality was actually extremely high.  It was very good because we found some certain more rare bugs in it."

Hayley Swafford, Madison County student, "I've always been told that if they were in the water, that that water is good."

The information these students collect counts, "we do actually have a database that we put this information into."

Susan Sachs and another ranger work full time at the center, "but the rest of the operation of this facility is through Friends of the Smokies, whether it's individual grants, or license plate money, or funds from the telethon. So, we do not charge for our programs.  So the groups that come up here come up for free."

Ranger Sachs says it takes about $100,000 a year to keep up the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center.

All the money raised tonight at the 20th Annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon will go toward conservation efforts, protection of wildlife, and environmental education.

Click here for more information or to make a donation.


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