Sevier County students learn about raptors at environmental center

Sep. 27, 2013 @ 11:43 PM

Representatives of the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge brought a number of wild birds to the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center Thursday morning to add to the center's hands-on approach with a group of Sevier County school students.

"We basically just teach the kids as much as we can about our area, the flora and fauna history of the area, as well as the cultural history," said Robert Younger, director of the environmental center, told The Mountain Press earlier this year. "It's a wide variety of activities where they learn about plants and animals, and we also spend a lot of time talking about the cultural history during the hikes."

Thursday morning the kids in attendance saw the return of an injured red-tail hawk to the wild, in addition to close-up views of other native birds, including a barred owl, a falcon, another red-tailed hawk and Mr. Lincoln, a bald eagle.

The American Eagle Foundation, headquartered in Pigeon Forge, is one of the foremost bald eagle restoration and protection organizations in the world. Federally-licensed to give care to up to 80 birds of prey in-house at any time, the foundation has taught scores of Sevier County children about wild birds since its founding in 1985 with educational programs.

According to the Tennessee Environmental Education Association, the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center was planned to incorporate the total school curriculum in a natural environment.

"While the major emphasis is placed on teaching students about the flora, fauna, and environment of the Smoky Mountains, the social and cultural heritage of the mountain people in East Tennessee is also studied," the site explains.

"The curriculum includes lessons on such topics as Early Pioneer Life, Indian History, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," it says.

Each sixth grade class in the Sevier County School System comes to the Environmental Center for a two-day, one-night visit.

"Students are engaged in the practical application of stream Ecology, a study of the plants and animals of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, as well as experiences with Appalachian Culture such as mountain music, arts, and crafts."

All fourth-grade classes in the Sevier County School System also participate an environmental program.

Fourth-grade classes usually go to the center in the winter, but the two-day, overnight sixth-grade trips are spread out throughout the school year.