When she's figuring out how much fur should be painted near a bobcat's ears, Abbey Ahmed needs only to walk a few feet to check.

The 24-year-old spent her week painting a mural atop a storm drain just steps away from the bobcat enclosure at Lincoln Children's Zoo.

Ahmed is one of 10 local artists who are part of the UpStream Art project — painting storm drains to bring awareness to the fact that drains lead directly to creeks or lakes.

Created by the Watershed Management Division of the Public Works and Utilities Department, the project will display "Only rain in the drain" on each drain alongside varying themes, project coordinator Erin Kubicek said.

Ahmed, a graphic designer, was encouraged to apply by her boss at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Nebraska One Health — a program that connects "human, animal, plant and ecosystem health," according to its website.

Drawing animals was a pastime of Ahmed's from a young age. She recalls sketching horses at age 2.

The UpStream Art project seemed like a natural fit. Her proposal featured a fox drinking from a stream leading toward the drain. When she found out her mural would be near the bobcat exhibit, she traded the fox for a bobcat.

The zoo holds a place in her heart, Ahmed said. Growing up in Milford, the zoo — a half-hour drive from home — was one of her favorite places to go. She remembers spending Halloween there as a child, collecting treats during the annual Boo at the Zoo. 

As she sat down inside the makeshift, fenced-off portion of sidewalk to paint Thursday afternoon, curious children came over to watch. 

"It's really special to be here," Ahmed said. "It brings back a lot of good memories."

The project has been in the works for two years, Kubicek said. She saw similar projects online and was inspired to create some public art in Lincoln.

The 10 selected artists have just less than a week to complete their murals, all in high foot-traffic locations.

The paintings will be coated with a concrete sealer that Kubicek said is supposed to preserve them for three to five years. 

Not everyone knows, Kubicek said, that water from the drains leads to creeks and lakes in Lincoln, and awareness is important.

"It's really supposed to be educational and help people to draw that connection between storm drains and our local waterways," Kubicek said. "If people realize that, then hopefully they'll be a little bit more careful about what goes down there."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or twilliams@journalstar.com.