Draw It. Write It. Kentucky Kids Use the Arts to Celebrate Water.

A conservation writing contest was hatched in 1944 to get Kentucky students interested in natural resources and still continues to this day

Draw It. Write It. Kentucky Kids Use the Arts to Celebrate Water.

An example of a winning entry in the art contest.

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Every year a contest for Kentucky students focuses on one of four alternating topics: wildlife, water, soil and forestry. In 1974 Jim Clayhill, the first assistant director of the Division of Conservation and an educator, added an art contest to the competition. From that point on, the art contest has been for grades K-5 students and the writing contest for grades 6-12.

Although the Division of Conservation is the main source of information on the contest, there have been several co-sponsors along the way, at present the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation.

Rules and Regs

The contest is open to all students in the Commonwealth: public, private, parochial and home-schooled. Last year the theme dealt with water. The competition begins on Sept. 1 when the theme and materials are provided on the Division of Conservation and Farm Bureau websites.

Entries from the schools are due to the local conservation district by Dec.  1. There are 121 conservation districts in the state; about 100 take part in the poster contest and about 90 in the essay contest.

The schools pick their top three winners and send those entries to the districts. Area and state level judging is done during January, and the winners are announced in February. Submissions generally number around 65,000. Each conservation district promotes the competition locally. It is also promoted through word of mouth, social media, and sponsors’ and organizers’ websites.

“Each year a beautiful 36-page tabloid magazine is created by our staff, contributing writers and the Farm Bureau,” says Johnna McHugh, assistant director of the Division of Conservation. Its title for 2021 was, We All Need Water. The magazine is used to promote the contest.

Celebrating Winners

The schools or the conservation districts have their own celebrations in which they honor the winners and give them certificates. In most cases, the school invites a speaker on the year’s topic; parents are invited.

Each county conservation district reviews all the winning school entries and chooses a county winner. Those winners are submitted to the Division of Conservation.  

FFA and 4H state officers choose the nine area winners. First-, second-, and third-place winners for the state competition are chosen from area winners. The winners are invited to the state capitol for a tour and get to meet their state legislators. The ceremony includes a guest speaker. Winners receive cash prizes:

  • First prize - $250
  • Second prize -  $150
  • Third prize - $50
  • Regional winners - $50
  • County-level winners - $25

Teachers of the winners also get a cash prize they can use to buy supplies for their classrooms. 

All in the Family

The contest is multigenerational, according to McHugh. Through its 80-year history, students’ parents and their grandparents remember competing when they were in school.

“It’s always so interesting to see each year what the students come up with to demonstrate their knowledge of natural resources,” McHugh says. “I remember competing when I was in school, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about Kentucky’s water, trees, animals and soil.”

That, in a way, influenced her decision to pursue a career in conservation: “Learning about our natural resources made me more aware of my family’s farm and what was going on in the creek behind the house. That stayed with me through the years.”

From the essay submissions she reads, McHugh observes that the students say the same things about how they are now more aware of the environment: “We are happy that we have some role in shaping that awareness.”


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