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One measure of the change in environmental attitudes over the past four decades can be gauged with the stories of two tiny darters.

In 1973 the discovery of a 2-inch fish, the snail darter, in Tennessee's Tellico River delayed for 20 years the construction of Tellico Dam and set in motion years of bitterness between business representatives and environmentalists.

Last summer near Varnell, Ga., environmentalists, regulators and homeowners partnered for a first-of-its-kind spring restoration to save a threatened population of another 2-inch fish, the coldwater darter.

"The coldwater darters are a fabulous example of how attitudes are changing and partnerships are forming to help people and the environment," said Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute researcher and director.

Dr. George, along with Georgia environmental regulators, area landowners and volunteers from the Conasauga River Alliance, spent about two weeks in October and November scooping darters from a privately owned, silt-strangled spring. The volunteers cleaned the fishes' habitat while the tiny creatures took a short vacation to the Conservation Institute fishery near Cohutta, Ga.

The coldwater darter lives in only 13 places worldwide -- all in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. One of those places is a natural coldwater spring on the four-generation Badger family farm near the border of Whitfield and Catoosa counties.

The nature helpers vacuumed water and sediment from the spring and took it to a neighbor's field, where they poured it through straw bales to filter the sediment-laden runoff. The cleaned water flowed by gravity back into the spring.

Despite some frustration when some fancy vacuum filter bags didn't work as planned, the effort ultimately was successful and workers removed about two feet of sediment from the spring.

"The fish are home now, where they hopefully will find more room to grow and multiply," Alliance Director Josh Smith said.

Dr. George is pleased with what she sees as today's wider acceptance of "green" attitudes.

"There's just a growing awareness that this is something that is all of our responsibilities," she said.

The researchers, regulators and volunteers plan to go back in the spring for another cleaning, hoping to get out another foot of dirt.

But this time they won't need more money. Thanks to the help of the landowners and their neighbors, as well as the donated services of the Dalton-Whitfield Regional Solid Waste Management Authority, the rescuers still have funds left over from the original $14,500 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant.

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