Fletcher, N.C.

The banks of Cane Creek came alive Friday with hard work — much of it by small, determined hands. Students of the FernLeaf Community School, joined by their parents and faculty,  came out to kick off the Shade Your Stream project, an effort to improve water quality and wildlife habitat in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife. 

“Defenders sees the value in supporting FernLeaf’s curriculum and making a splash in the education of future generations,” said Tracy Davids, senior southeast representative with Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s thrilling to see how this collaboration and our work with the Tennessee River Basin Network blossomed into a project that will benefit wildlife and habitats on campus and in the creek, while also serving as an outdoor classroom.” 

Powered by funds from Tennessee River Basin Network’s Shade Your Stream Grant Program, the school has embarked on a year-long plan to remove invasive plants that choke out native ones and curb sediment from entering the school’s section of Cane Creek. FernLeaf students and adults worked with Defenders of Wildlife staff and Conservation Management Institute biologist Morgan Harris on Friday to restore vegetation along 1,500 feet of riverbank by the school’s Creek Campus. Work included: 

  • Marking and removing invasive plants like Chinese privet, Oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard and Chinese silver grass 

  • Planting sapling trees along the edge of the creek to stabilize the banks and keep waters cool, clean and teeming with wildlife 

  • Planting edible and medicinal plants like American pawpaw, American hazelnut and yellow root, benefitting people and wildlife 

Shade Your Stream
Emily Moreno/FernLeaf Community Charter School

Cool rivers and creeks across the southern Appalachian Mountains have historically been home to many species of fish, mussels, crayfish and salamanders such as the eastern hellbender salamander — all now threatened by pollution. Private land partnerships like this one between FernLeaf, Defenders and the Tennessee River Basin Network, not only restore natural resources, but also help the students of today become the stewards of tomorrow. 

“Students participating in the Shade Your Stream project have gained a sense of hope and are empowered to make a positive impact on the environment and their community around them,” said FernLeaf educators Emily Moreno and Tanya Prater. “Through many different investigations in and around our local streams, students gained a better understanding of the interconnectedness of our local waterways and how we can protect them. Our goal as educators is for students to learn that, through collaboration and hands-on hard work, a little project can go a long way to give back to the world around them.” 

Over the academic year to come, FernLeaf students will continue restoration activities and begin tracking their results through regular water quality monitoring. As Cane Creek recovers from decades of degradation from human development, it will give back tenfold to the community and wildlife. 

FernLeaf Community Charter School students take a spill while planting sapling trees.
Emily Moreno/FernLeaf Community Charter School

FernLeaf was awarded a $6,000 Shade Your Stream grant from the Tennessee River Basin Network, of which Defenders of Wildlife is a member. Now in its fourth year, the program awards grants for river basin safeguarding projects that engage people and communities. To date the program has enhanced a total of 10,376 feet of stream bank. 

Connecting to the French Broad River and many tributaries, Cane Creek is also the top restoration priority of the French Broad River Partnership Water Quality Working Group, of which Defenders of Wildlife is a member. Defenders of Wildlife cooperates with FernLeaf by providing hands-on student learning experiences focused on imperiled wildlife. 

For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/newsroom or follow us on X @Defenders.


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(202) 772-0243


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