The river otter on the side of a Winston-Salem water tank has won the national championship in a contest that celebrates the accomplishments of public water systems across the country.
The Sides Road Water Tank off Peters Creek Parkway sports a 50-foot-tall mural of an otter that garnered 3,036 votes in a “March Madness” style competition. It pitted the otter against a wastewater treatment plant in Athens, Ga., in the finals.
The Athens entry won 2,615 votes in the competition for the Knope Award, which was hosted by a group called Engaging Local Government Leaders.
Local officials said they were supported in the online voting by the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, global otter protection groups and others to win every weekly bracket over the past month.
Kirsten Wyatt, the executive director of ELGL said the winner of this fun contest receives, “a trophy, world acclaim, a free All-In membership to ELGL for the year and, of course, ELGL’s forever admiration.”
Local ELGL members proud to have those bragging rights are city and utilities staffers Heather Curry and Ricky Ruvio, who entered “Daybreak Along the River,” featuring an indigenous American river otter that was designed and painted by the artist Daas in 2018. They describe it as “absolutely adorable — not a fact, but a very, very strong opinion.”
“The large participation in voting from the community really shows how much public art can make a positive, meaningful impact and serve as an example to encourage creative use for these types of municipal water facilities around the country,” Daas said.
The mural is visible to thousands of southbound drivers every day on Peters Creek Parkway just south of Clemmonsville Road. Utility officials said it helps bring attention to the area’s water resources and native flora and fauna — and how important they are for the community.
Otters are native to the Yadkin River which serves as the main source of water for the region. The mural was created through a public/private partnership with the Lidl grocery chain, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utilities and the Winston-Salem Public Art Commission.
Each year, ELGL hosts the Knope Award to shine a light on essential local government services. The award is named for Leslie Knope, the lead character in TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” a comedy about people in government service. The iconic character is played by Amy Poehler, who was also a writer on the sitcom that ran from 2009 until 2015.
“This year, by focusing on water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities, we wanted to showcase how critical these services are to thriving and livable communities,” Wyatt said. “It’s an added bonus that this year’s National Champion is also simply adorable and reminds local government of the powerful connection between public services and public art.”