In the early morning light, 15 students look for the first time at a traditional Cherokee rivercane basket and marvel at the colors and detail.
Western Carolina University’s Adam Griffith of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines passes the basket around as he explains the cultural and ecological significance of rivercane.
“Since we started the Rivercane Restoration Project in 2006, I have just gotten more and more impressed with this native plant. It knows how deep it is in the soil- how cool is that?!” he says with a grin.
And while education is essential, Griffith and the Forestry Conservation class from the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center came to this newer transplant site for some hard labor.
After a crash course in new rivercane growth, other native plants, and common invasive species, students got to work hand pulling a spring’s worth of choking weeds from around each clump of rivercane.
With handfuls of clovers in his hand, student Samson Richardson shared “it’s good to take care of this resource and protect it. After today, I’ll look outside and wonder what plants should be there and what shouldn’t”. His huge armful of clover and grass is added to the growing pile.
Griffith is encouraged by educational moments like these. “If there were ever a plant that needed a public relations campaign this would be it. The local region still loses several healthy stands a year to development or simple lack of information on the ecological benefits.”
Although this particular stand near the Cherokee Central Schools is still at least eight years from being harvest ready, it is an investment in the future. Future students and basket wavers alike will come here to learn and use this native plant.
The Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center is associated with the National Forests of North Carolina. It is accredited by the Council on Occupational Education and currently serves 104 students.