Kids 4 Clean Water camps use outdoor activities to educate

Kids 4 Clean Water camps use outdoor activities to educate

May 31st, 2012 by Emily Crisman in Community Signal Mountain

Snorkeling through streams, canoeing and searching for creek-dwelling creatures are among the many activities planned for Kids 4 Clean Water Camp, organized by Signal Mountain-based TenneSEA, a nonprofit which supports clean water efforts. With headquarters located at the Mountain Arts Community Center, the organization works locally to promote stormwater education and water monitoring by citizens.

Wade in

To register call Laura Keys at 503-4886 or email

"Any kid who likes to play outdoors will have a good time," said Laura Keys, the camp's director.

The camp offers two sessions, one of which will be held at MACC June 4-8 and the second at Hixson's Greenway Farms June 11-15. Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both weeks.

Through outdoor activities such as swimming and hiking and hands-on experiments, participants will learn how their actions affect water quality and what they can do to help protect their environment. Campers will take water samples to test for bacteria in local streams, which on Signal Mountain many are surprised to learn often contain high levels E. coli, she said.

"We teach about how [clean water] is important to every aspect of their lives - how having clean water can impact not just them but the entire environment," said Keys. "One of the most important take-aways from water camp is to get an appreciation for their water and get them to care about it."

Participants in the Signal Mountain session will take a field trip to Audubon Acres, where Keys said they will search the clear water of South Chickamauga Creek for fish and bottom-dwelling creatures.

"It's one of the better creeks in the area for finding a wide variety of life," she said.

Open to rising third- through seventh-graders, the cost of the camp is $100 for the week. Keys said spots are filling up and recommends those interested in participating sign up soon.

Signal Mountain water quality update

With many neighborhoods built on shallow soil, the Signal Mountain community has several streams rife with E. coli.

"E. coli generally comes from septic tanks that need to be maintained or overflow," said Laura Keys, a local cleanwater advocate. "The way septic tanks normally work, they need a lot of deep soil [for overflow] to settle into."

TenneSEA has organized several workshops to teach community members how to monitor water quality in local streams, and provides testing kits free of charge that can be checked out at its office at the MACC. Findings are reported to county officials, who can then conduct more advanced testing where pollution is discovered.

"The ideal thing is to find out which septic tanks are overflowing," Keys said. "You can trace it very specifically into people's yards."

She said the goal is not to point fingers, but to encourage homeowners in neighborhoods draining into contaminated streams to take advantage of methods available to help lessen the flow of bacteria. One option is creating a rain guard, which Keys said is basically a constructed wetland in which the plants and soil act as a filter for bacteria.

Problem areas:

Neighborhoods along Shoal Creek (Brow Estates, Carriage Hill, Palisades, Old Town) and Bee Branch (Birnham Woods)