North Fork Finds Friends

Posted: May 7, 2014

Staff Writer

On May 3, the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River gathered at Strasburg Town Park for the group’s annual Family Fun Day.

According to Executive Director Leslie Mitchell, the river conservation organization hosts the event to help locals of all ages “make a connection” with the body of water.

“We try to get them on the river, in the river and interacting with the wildlife and fish,” said Mitchell. “[We want them to learn] how the river is important to the wildlife and how we depend on it, as well.”

However, before starting the day’s activities, members held the 26th annual meeting under a picnic pavilion, during which the FNFSR’s Volunteer of the Year was announced.

The award was given to Margaret Nelson for her role in monitoring the river’s health.

“Thank you very much; this is an organization I believe in,” she remarked, as she received her certificate of honor.

After the meeting concluded, a variety of educational activities were offered, including fly fishing instruction, a guided nature walk along the river bank and a presentation about wood turtles hosted by Dr. Tom Akre.

During his presentation, Akre — a researcher with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal — explained that wood turtles have “really strict” living requirements.

“People say trout don’t live in ugly places and it’s the same with wood turtles,” he said. “They don’t live in ugly places, so [their presence] is an indicator of healthy habitats.”

Due to deforestation and pollution, Akre estimates that wood turtles in Virginia have lost “at least 50 percent” of their natural habitat.

While Akre discussed his research, Ellery Ruther, an intern for the SCBI, brought out a live wood turtle for the audience to touch.

Although 11-year-old Emma Boyden enjoyed all of the main activities, she says her favorite part of the day was the guided nature walk.

“I learned about how the squirrels build leaf nests,” she recalled. “I thought they just lived in trees ... in the hollow [part].”

Boyden, a self-described animal lover, says she hopes the community can help keep the Shenandoah River clean because she worries about the animals that rely on it for sustenance.

“I feel like it would make the fish come back and the turtles come back and just make [life for them] a lot easier.”

The group has planned several upcoming events. North Fork to the Bay — a professional development program for teachers in the North Fork Shenandoah River watershed — will be held June 23-27.

North Fork Explorers Summer Camp for rising sixth- through 12th-graders in the North Fork watershed will be held July 7-11.

Shenandoah River Players summer camp for rising first- through third-graders will also be held July 7-11.

For more information, visit

Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or