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Trahern Cook, also known as Easel Cathedral, has mastered the art of plein-air paintings like few other local artists. Made in the open air, outside the confines of studio walls, and reminiscent of French impressionism, each of his artworks tells a story of life moving all around him in an experiential style that reflects the water, air, greenery, sunlight, shade, and delight of the space-time fraction it was created in. He’s often visited by his muses at the Congaree River, whose 689-sq. mi. watershed is intrinsically tied to Columbia’s history and its current natural landscape.
Home to a diverse ecosystem, including migrant and resident birds, fish and mussels, and threatened and endangered flora and fauna species, the Congaree River is, in fact, the result of a merging of the Broad and Saluda rivers just above the Gervais Street bridge in Columbia. The Congaree and its satellite streams are also classified as “freshwater” by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which means they are suitable for human recreational purposes, industrial and agricultural uses, and drinking (after treatment), as well as for the survival and propagation of indigenous aquatic animals and plants. With 28 domestic, industrial, and municipal wastewater dischargers, however, plus 20 surface water withdrawers in numerous locations along the Congaree River, water quantity/quality and aquatic life are always under imminent threat in the South Carolina Midlands.
That’s when Congaree Riverkeeper, our river watchdog, steps in, monitoring and cleaning up our waterways from trash and debris, reporting and holding polluters accountable, and promoting sustainable water policies. “Congaree Riverkeeper has been working to protect the Broad, Lower Saluda, and Congaree rivers for more than 12 years, with a variety of programs that go from cleanups and water quality monitoring to river patrols and water policy work,” adds Bill Stangler, Riverkeeper’s Executive Director. “The basic, fundamental idea behind our nonprofit, however, is that these rivers belong to each and every one of us. And, as more people get to experience our waterways and see how amazing they are, I know they’ll want to join the fight for clean water and healthy rivers.”
Wondering how you can be a good steward of the Congaree to ensure it remains a source of creative inspiration for Easel and everyone in Columbia? You can make a difference by lobbying your legislators, volunteering at Congaree Riverkeeper to clean up the rivers, becoming a Riverkeeper member, or donating to the cause. Your support helps keep Bill and his team on the water, at the State House, and at the courthouse, fighting for clean water and healthy rivers.
Learn more about Congaree Riverkeeper, the work that they do for the rivers that
flow through the Midlands, and how you can make a donation, whether it’s monetary, supplies, or volunteer hours, by visiting congareeriverkeeper.org or by following them on social media (@congareeriverkeeper).