WEST JEFFERSON, N.C. — "Stella the Salamander" has been chosen as the mascot for the New River Conservancy, the organization established in 1991 to protect the New River in central Appalachia, and there's an environmentally significant reason why.
Amphibians like frogs and salamanders are heralds of a healthy environment, and the ecology of the New River valley is enjoying relatively good health, though it's under increased pressure, says Lisa Stansell-Galitz, the organization's new marketing director, who's introducing Stella to an expanding audience.
Now the focus of a boom in tourism and an uptick in new residency, the river's drainage from its sources in the Blue Ridge to its mouth at the New River Gorge is attracting more tourists, thanks in part to the creation of a national park along its lower course.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, says Stansell-Galitz, has drawn even more attention to a river that was designated an American Heritage River in 1997. However, the work-from-home revolution has also promoted the river as an ideal rural-living destination.
"Big changes are coming to the New River region," Stansell-Galitz says, "and we felt the creation of a mascot was an ideal way to create awareness about the health of the region and the need to manage it with care."
Stansell-Galitz says the bright blue-and-green mascot designed by Virginia Tech structural engineering student Samantha Goncalves Huskey embodies the river and its drainage in several remarkable ways.
"Not only are her colors the same base as our logo, but they are also the colors of Earth. We don’t know if there is a salamander that looks like this in the New River watershed, but the southern Appalachian Mountains contain the most diverse salamander populations in the world," she said.
"She has a birthmark that is the exact course of the New River. Her name comes from Stella Alexander, who helped save the New River and establish the National Committee for the New River in 1962 in Ashe County, North Carolina."
The Stella character will be especially useful in teaching children about the New River watershed and the conservancy, Stansell-Galitz said.
"Stella and her friends will be able to tell the story of the New River Conservancy and the issues of the New River to all age groups," she said.
"Grade school children can learn about the conservancy and the New River through coloring books. Teens and college students will learn how they can make a change and perhaps not have to worry so much, and everyone can sport decals on their vehicles and thermos bottles."
Since 1991, the New River Conservancy has been the watershed's chief proponent of water resource and wetlands conservation and management, working to ensure its environmental quality, protection, and beautification.
The New River flows 320 miles through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and drains more than 6,000 square miles in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern U.S.
The New River Conservancy
Visit the New River Conservancy website for more information.