Water as a window on the world: Gwinnett County case study

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Displays in the main hall at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center.

The human and natural world intersect in water. Water is life. Yet, water can also serve as a focus for understanding history and our human past.

The Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, near Buford, has chosen to link their wonderful, fun, and informative displays to water—not only water in streams and rivers, but also water as an everyday resource humans need and use.

City-dwellers may think of water in three ways: as always coming out of the tap, as rain, and as the liquid under a bridge or in a pond in a park.

However, the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center’s displays use water to show indisputably how science, culture, and history are interrelated. Archaeology, in turn, provides time depth to that understanding, and sheds light on the linkages in these relationships.

River systems are simultaneously transportation corridors and barriers to access, both for humans and for many other creatures. They have an up- and downstream, and so readily direct travelers to the mountains (their sources) and the ocean (the end of rivers), making them useful either to follow or to cross in series.

Crossing rivers can be difficult, and people often designate them as political boundaries. The Savannah River, for example, forms the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina for much of its length, and the lower reaches of the Chattahoochee River separate Georgia and Alabama. Farther north, the St. Lawrence River separates the northeastern United States of America from southeastern Canada.

Like all resources, human population increase puts pressure on our water resources. Also, water is crucial to sustainable development.

The Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, with a water feature that flows beneath the building.

All these aspects of water are addressed in the entertaining and educational exhibits at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center. Visit the center (admission charged) and play in the water! Many displays are interactive and all are engaging. Indoors you will find 21st-century exhibit designs, and you can also spend time outdoors following the Stream Ecology Trail.

The Center uses the topic of water as a common conceptual link in addressing the natural and human history of Gwinnett County. Can you think of another single, dynamic topic or concept that cross-cuts the human and natural worlds as completely as water does? Please login and comment….

Where to find it