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Youth invited to see river by kayak

BELMONT -- On Friday, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation launches its newest program, Youth Kayaking River Expedition. Classes will be held each Friday and Saturday through September on Lake Wylie in Belmont.

The mission of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is to advocate for and secure protection and enhancement of the Catawba River, its lakes, tributaries and watershed so that it will always sustain the human and wildlife populations that depend on it for life. Community outreach and education--key components of our Youth Kayak River Expedition program -- play a vital role in helping us achieve our mission. The goal of the program is to reach 200 youth by Sept. 1 with a message of water conservation and natural protection. The YKRE program will provide a hands-on opportunity for students to see how their drinking water at home is directly related to the water in the Catawba River system.

"This is especially critical when so many of these young people think the source of their drinking water is the faucet in their kitchen," said Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman. "We plan to bridge the connection of our daily lives and the natural environment with this YKRE program."

"At the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, we believe that nature is our most precious resource and our most exciting classroom," Merryman said. "Encouraging young people to explore and enjoy the beauty, wonder and power of their natural surroundings can inspire a better appreciation for the vital role our environment plays in the future health of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Our environment is their inheritance, and young people have proven that they can be powerful forces of change."

The program will begin with a thirty minute safety presentation. Students will then launch their boats into the river. During the class, participants will begin to understand how pollution sources can affect the lake and the river and how they and their families can take actions to protect our waterways. These informed young people are the "caregivers of tomorrow"; they will be better stewards for the Catawba and other rivers and lakes as a result of their participation in the YKRE program.

"We will take students on voyages of discovery and help them understand the critical role that the Catawba plays in their daily lives and the lives of their families and friends," said Rick Gaskins, executive director for foundation. "The link between our daily lives and clean water is made in a way that is both fun and highly educational. The program also enhances the students' confidence in kayaking, an activity that is a whole new experience for many of the participants."

The Riverkeeper Foundation believes that the early learning experiences such as those that will be provided with the YKRE program will help students grow into informed adults who care for and understand the larger community in which they live and the importance of having healthy waterways for humans and wildlife. The immediate goal is to teach these young people who are the future stewards of our natural resources, that they can make a difference in preserving the Catawba and its tributaries by helping them understand how they can protect their neighborhood streams from pollution and how they can conserve water.

The program will be a stepping stone with a future goal of moving young people from awareness into action. With the successful completion of the Youth Kayak River Expedition program, students will receive a one year membership to the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, as a JuniorKeeper. This will allow youth to become part of a bigger network of community members interested in water conservation, protection and advocacy. They will receive updates on other programs such as the annual RiverSweep lake cleanup on Lake Wylie and have the opportunity to participate in these projects. They will also receive monthly educational updates from the Catawba Riverkeeper, letting them know about issues that arise on the Catawba and how they can get out into the field to help.

Participation in the class costs $20 for each student. Scholarships are available by calling the Riverkeeper office. To register for a YKRE class, contact Merryman at 704-679-9494 or e-mail at david@catawbariverkeeper.org. For more information, visit catawbariverkeeper.org.

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