River district plays many roles along the Catawba

by Edna Chirico

Hopefully you have heard of the Catawba River District, but even those who have might lack a clear idea of our work. Protecting the Catawba River? Helping the economy? Improving schools? We are all of that and more.

The Catawba River District seeks to provide a united voice for protecting and growing the things that make our community special – good schools, homes and jobs; a healthy environment; and vibrant town centers.

I have seen first-hand what happens when a community lacks that voice. I moved to northwest Charlotte 10 years ago with my husband, John. We felt the environmentally and historically rich area around Mountain Island Lake would be ideal for raising our blended family of three teenagers and three grandchildren.

Like many of you, I watched with apprehension in the mid-2000s as builders discovered our quiet corner of the county and began developing Charlotte’s last frontier.

I have witnessed the same kind of growth before, while living in University City and serving as its county commission representative. I watched good and bad evolve simultaneously. Only after the creation of a strong community voice called University City Partners did Charlotte leaders start to listen to residents about their needs.

I did not want that to happen here as well, so in 2008 I helped organize a group of developers and a group of environmentalists to launch the Catawba River District. Our goal is to work with this area’s many groups to provide a unified voice for our area of northwest Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and areas of Belmont and Mount Holly, near the river.  We want everyone to see the River District as we do: an environmentally precious part of the region and a great place to live, as well.

The four years since we began have been a roller coaster ride for the River District. Our group initially planned to team with two developers to help them brand the River District as an environmentally friendly place to live. We even created a unique certification program that helps homes save energy while protecting the Catawba River.

The recession has put that effort on hold but not stopped our work toward protecting the river and improving our local economy.

Our current efforts focus on helping local schools prepare our children for high-tech jobs of the future. We brought together experts from across all levels of learning to help us shape an exciting new approach to learning science and math that is accessible regardless of family income level. From this has come our second major initiative, Outdoor Learning Laboratories.

I will have much more to share about the labs in future months, but imagine getting math and science lessons while visiting your local greenway, park and school.

We also have launched a third important initiative: a broad communications network to keep everyone informed on both our efforts. Visit CatawbaRiverViews.org to learn more.

I hope this monthly column will help more of our community connect with us and each other, helping forge that goal of speaking as a collective voice and not being ignored by our government leaders and elected officials.

Since helping to start the Catawba River District in 2008, Edna Chirico has served on its executive board, until taking over as executive director in 2011. A former two-term Mecklenburg County commissioner, she has served on many public and nonprofit boards. She lives in the Mountain Island area with her husband, John, and has three children and three grandchildren.

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