Category Archives: Volunteer Stream Monitoring

Northeast Creek Streamwatch conduct regular inspections and testing at key points in the Northeast Creek basin.

What a Wild 16 Years It Has Been

march 2006 stream monitoring - grandale road
2006: New members of Northeast Creek Streamwatch watching Michael Pollock demonstrate the procedure for monitoring streams.

In 2005, Michael Pollock set up a table at the Parkwood October Flea Market and signed up volunteers to monitor Northeast Creek at Grandale Road and at Sedwick Road as part of a North Carolina effort to improve water quality and introduce the public to the notion of “non-point” sources of pollution: runoff from over-fertilized lawns, dog poop, litter, and the dumping of objects and litter into “unused land” including stream basins. After 16 years, we are very clear now that there is no “away” to throwing it away; pollutants stay somewhere.

a map of the northeast creek streams
A 2006 map of the location of the streams that constitute the Northeast Creek watershed.

Through a “Where Is Northeast Creek?” publicity campaign with tabling, cards, and tee shirts, we became aware of the major tributaries of Northeast Creek and the relationship of the streams to roads and neighborhoods. The “four corners” of the watershed in Durham County are Emorywood (NW), Bethesda (NE), Research Triangle Park (SE), and C. J. Herndon Park (SW). The bottom corners in Chatham and Wake counties are the mouth of Northeast Creek at the NC 751 bridge over Lake Jordan (SW) and Green Hope High School in Cary (SE). In the map above the railroad track symbol that runs from the “h” in “Northeast” up to the Chatham/Durham line is the railroad that is now the American Tobacco Trail.

source of northeast creek near eastern connector
Source stream running down a steep slope viewed from the bridge on Glover Road that crosses the Durham Freeway (NC 147)

It did not take long to explore the sources of Northeast Creek, in Emorywood, Bilboa, Bethesda, Research Triangle Park, Morrisville, and Green Level.

Northeast Creek is a Triassic Basin stream that descends from the ridge between the Cape Fear River basin (Lake Jordan) and the Neuse River basin (Falls Lake). The steep slopes near downtown Durham and the North Carolina Railroad give way to wet bottom lands near the Ellis-SoHi intersection and in Meridian Park. South of I-40, the wetland alternates between braided streams and meanders with ox-bow pools. By the time it flows into Lake Jordan, it has gathered the runoff from 47 square miles of watershed. It is typical of a stream in the fall zone of the Carolina Piedmont.

kayak at mouth of northeast creek
Mouth of Northeast Creek as seem from a kayak in Lake Jordan

Eventually, one who lives in the Northeast Creek basin will want to see where it empties into Lake Jordan. In the 2007 drought, it was possible to walk around the lake shore to the mouth. Most often, a kayak is a more convenient form of transportation. After rainstorms, one will notice the suspended colloidal clay from the rapid runoff over bare ground that gets retained all the way to the mouth of Northeast Creek.

Water determines how land is developed. How land is developed determines the quality of water.

In 2005, Michael Pollock adopted Northeast Creek as a North Carolina Division of Water Quality Stream Watch project and coordinated with Laura Webb Smith, City of Durham’s environmental educator on adopting a part of Northeast Creek in Durham. Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA Administrator had promoted and adopt-your-stream program in 2005 that became North Carolina’s Stream Watch program. In 2007, Randal Haithcock adopted the entire Northeast Creek watershed under the EPA Adopt-a-Stream program.

canoe as float - Parkwood Christmas Parade 2006
Kids from the Parkwood Library craft program riding in a canoe as a Northeast Creek Streamwatch unit of the Parkwood Christmas parade 2006

By December of 2006, it was clear that people would have to love Northeast Creek to protect and be aware of its existence if they were to learn to love it. Something about a sense of place was emerging. Northeast Creek Streamwatch enlisted volunteers from the Parkwood Library (before South Regional Library was constructed) to create costumes and ride a float in the Parkwood Christmas Parade on behalf of Northeast Creek Streamwatch.

christmas 2006 float before the parade
Some of the Northeast Creek Streamwatch unit before the parade. Susanne Gomolski is second from right.

A Chapel Hill resident who was supporting Northeast Creek Streamwatch and operating Kayak Adventures, the late Susanne Gomolski offered to provide the equipment for the float, a canoe and kayaks, that she used to take tours of the mouth of Northeast Creek and other places around Lake Jordan.

lake jordan kayak outing for christmas parade crew
Lake Jordan kayak outing for 2006 Christmas Parade crew

In the late spring of the next year, the volunteers who were in the Christmas Parade camped out at Lake Jordan and paddled kayaks in one of the arms of the lake. One of the thrills was seeing a bald eagle taking a fish from the waters of Lake Jordan.

I B M environmental day 2007
Northeast Creek Streamwatch provided a tent a the IBM Environmental Day for several years in a row; this is from 2007.

During Earth Week, volunteers from Northeast Creek Streamwatch tabled at the annual IBM Environmental Day, raising awareness about the effects of polluted water on amphibians.

Earth Day 2006 Clean-up - Grandale Road Bridge
The results of the Earth Day 2006 clean-up at Grandale Road bridge. Note the motorcycle.

The previous Earth Day, the first major clean-up at the Grandale Road bridge netted this load of trash, including a motorcycle.

Earth Day 2006 after clean-up
Northeast Creek after the Earth Day clean-up

After the 2006 cleanup the creek at Grandale Road had lost a lot of trash.

one of the clean-up teams on earth day 2007
One of the clean-up teams on Earth Day 2007

In 2007 Northeast Creek Streamwatch had a larger clean-up with over 30 people and teams cleaning up four locations; this is one of the teams.

northeast creek bottom lands map

The natural heritage inventory study area for the Northeast Creek Bottomlands in Durham County NC

Advocacy began in 2006 with efforts to ensure an adequate upland buffer around the Northeast Creek Bottomlands, a Durham County designated significant natural area of plants and wildlife.

The cover of the inventory that designated all of the important natural areas in Durham County:

Cover of the Durham County Inventory of Important Natural Areas, Plants, and Wildlife, 1999

Our first glimpse of the property that applying to be a high-density single-family residential development looked like this view from Corps of Engineers property.

scott king property first view
Picture of Scott King Road property (now Lyon’s Farm Elementary School) taken from Corps of Engineers property March 2006

After two years of advocacy, the neighborhoods and Northeast Creek Streamwatch, the zoning proposal was withdrawn and the property purchased by Durham Public Schools as what is now Lyon’s Farm Elementary School.

bee james farmhouse 2010
The appearance of the Bee James farmhouse when Durham Public Schools acquired the property in 2010.

In 2010, Durham Public Schools allowed Northeast Creek Streamwatch a site visit. We photographed the farmhouse, native plants, and the area between the DPS site and the American Tobacco Trail bridge. This view of the farmhouse shows that it had an enclosed front porch and a tin roof. We are still researching the history of occupation of this farmhouse, but it might have been vacant as long as 48 years by this point.

dressed red sandstone boulder in foundation of Bee James farmhouse
This red sandstone foundation block is what inspired the archaeological salvage effort at the construction site of Lyon’s Farm Elementary School.

In 2015, Durham Public Schools contacted us, saying that they were beginning the design phase of school construction and had their capital and construction manager meet us to walk the site. When we did this, we found that a brush fire had burned the house and blackened some of the pine trees. In the ruins of the foundation and the cold cellar, we saw this dressed red sandstone block and decided that we needed to find out more about this house’s history.

farmhouse foundations and chimney after cleaning
Farmhouse foundations and chimney after cleaning brush away and clearing brush out of the cold cellar

On Martin Luther King Day 2016, Northeast Creek Streamwatch volunteers cleaned the brush away from the foundations and took a picture of the exposed chimney and the cold cellar. We also contacted the NC State Archaeologist’s Office to provide a framework for any documentation or salvage archaeology. The story of this place was worth telling to the students who would attend the school; it would give them an up-close view of what history and archaeology are.

stone wall at southeast corner of Bee James house, Lyon's Farm Elementary School site
Archaeological documentation of SE corner of Bee James farm house foundations at Lyon’s Farm Elementary School site

Preliminary research showed that the property was acquired in 1942 by a black farmer named Bee James; property that Durham Public Schools also acquired for this project was owned by Eddie Lyon; another tracts had be owned in the 1950s by the Pritchards.

north wall of farmhouse foundation marked for reconstruction
North wall of farmhouse foundation marked for reconstruction

During the documentation of the old farmstead, the north wall of the cold cellar was marked to permit the option of reconstructing it. In this picture, you can see that the floor in the cold cellar was a tarpaper-coated floor boarding laid top of the first two courses of stone.

map of natural heritage inventory area behind lyon's farm elementary school
Continuous portion of the Northeast Creek bottom lands natural heritage area between Grandale Road and the American Tobacco Trail

Continuous portion of the Northeast Creek bottom lands natural heritage area in the meanders between Grandale Road and a section of the American Tobacco Trail. Coming in from the southeast of the American Tobacco Trail bridge is Kit Creek (Kitt Creek).

From 2015 onward, Northeast Creek Streamwatch has partnered with the biotechnology career program at Lowe’s Grove Middle School. Two years (before COVID-19) we celebrated Creek Week at Lowe’s Grove Middle School. We also partnered with the biotechnology career program and the NC Museum of Natural Science one year in a Dragonfly Detective citizen science program.

In 2015, Cory Quammen conducted a Save the Rain workshop to showcase the work that he and Durham Soil and Water did to control the runoff from his yard. He began instructing how to make hand-made rainbarrels from recycled pickle barrels.

In 2016, the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District named Northeast Creek Streamwatch as Urban Conservationist of the Year.

opening celebration of parkwood village wiggly trail July 2017
First procession down the newly opened Wiggly Trail at Parkwood Village, constructed by residents and neighbors with Neighborhood Improvement grant funds.

In 2017, Northeast Creek Streamwatch partnered with the Parkwood Village Association (PVA) in a City of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Program grant to reduce erosion going into Parkwood Creek (Tributary C) through construction of the Wiggly Trail and a garden of evapotranspirators next to the Parkwood Village swimming pool. The completion of the project was celebrated with a march down the new trail, with all of the participants from Parkwood Village, Parkwood, and other neighborhoods joining in the festivities.

painting pictures for the Wiggly Trail project
Volunteers getting art instruction in painting pictures for the Wiggly Trail Project in 2017

In 2017, the completion of the Wiggly Trail had a workshop for making rainbarrels and a workshop to paint pictures of native plants and butterflies

caterpillar at monarch festival 2018
Caterpillar created by Fayetteville Street Elementary School art students at Monarch Festival 2018

In 2018, Northeast Creek Streamwatch was one of the participants at the Monarch Festival at Sandy Creek Park. The art class at Fayetteville Street Elementary School brought a paper mache caterpillar made by students.

Cory Quammen showed a handmade water barrel and promoted the Upstream Neighbors-Downstream Neighbors program.

cory quammen promoting save-the-rain rainbarrel workshop
Cory Quammen promoting Save-the-Rain rainbarrel-making workshop at the Monarch Festival

Northeast Creek in the Corps of Engineers land is a different world of plants and animals, but still shows the issues of water quality that motivates continued work.

tree on north streambank of northeast creek near American Tobacco Trail bridge
Stream quality in March 2006 and showing stream bank erosion around tree roots.

At mouth of Northeast Creek is a multi-species bird rookery that includes this blue heron photographed by Susanne Gomolski.

blue heron - photo by susanne gomolski
A great blue heron in the rookery at the mouth of Northeast Creek

NC55-Hopson and Bull City Townhomes rezoning hearing comments

Below are some comments on the NC55-Hopson and Bull City Townhomes rezoning hearings coming up tomorrow evening, Monday, February 7th, at the “virtual” City Council meeting at 7pm. There will also be a hearing on the proposed 3602 Westminster Avenue rezoning, but that project isn’t in the Northeast Creek basin. People who want to speak at the hearings have to register by 2pm Monday:  cityordinances.durhamnc.gov/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=507&doctype=1 Most of this has been posted here before in some form. First there is a shorter summary of some issues with NC55-Hopson and then longer comments on the two proposals, mainly on the first.

Some points on NC55-Hopson

The NC Natural Heritage Program recommended in the most recent Durham County Inventory that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommended that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along Northeast Creek between 55 and 751.

In light of the above, where would the utilities be placed for building in this part of Durham, including along Grandale south of Northeast Creek? It seems like new roads would be worse than utility corridors.

Harm to public land and its users can be seen as harm to the public, and people can benefit from or enjoy the gameland without ever going there to hunt, hike, etc. There is also the issue of things that currently happen at little or no cost, but might become externalities paid for by the City, neighbors, etc. because of construction.

What are Scannell’s plans? Recently roads were bulldozed at the northwest end for detailed surveying, so they would appear to already have a plan for where buildings and roads will be placed, but aren’t revealing it to the public. Since last year they have been planning to begin building this spring – building what, where?

I am against the extension of Hopson and Grandale, mainly because of the impact on the gameland and wildlife, as well as already existing dangers for pedestrians and cyclists on Grandale and nearby roads, though maybe these impacts could be partially alleviated. There are already connecting roads in roughly the same place. Could they be improved, instead of building a new road? Speeding on residential parts of Sedwick Road, far above the 25mph limit, should be addressed. On the other hand it might be beneficial if parking were improved to access the gameland.

What about light pollution? Would streetlights be placed on Grandale and the Hopson extension, harming nocturnal wildlife in a public natural area? Would NC55-Hopson include large greenhouses, which would impact my quality of life, miles away, and those further away, not to mention wildlife in the adjacent gameland? Currently that area is pretty dark and except for air traffic to or from RDU little or no artificial light is directly visible in places such as the middle of the powerline corridor between 55 and Grandale, probably one reason the gameland has so many fireflies, of several species, and nocturnal birds now very rare in the Triangle have been seen a short distance away.

An increasing issue – are Durham’s new blue streetlights worse with regard to light pollution than more conventionally-colored lights?

I am against blasting levelling hills, as has happened on the east side of 55. Also, the neighbors and possibly I would hear this construction and blasting going on. I’m more concerned about traffic noise, but long periods of loud construction noise might bother the neighbors and wildlife as well.

Building new roads obviously contributes to climate change, aside from the traffic and deforestation, and it would be redundant.

Runoff and any other pollution from these projects would quickly get into neighboring Northeast Creek and then into Jordan Lake, and if something toxic to humans leaked, people live not that far away. Non-native species and GMOs would also escape into a so far relatively pristine natural area. I doubt a “business park” would be interesting in managing its property to not harm the gameland, for example by limiting lawn chemical use and the amount of close-cropped, unnaturally green lawn and non-native plants. People would no doubt be watching for violations during construction, though it is a somewhat remote area. On the other hand Northeast Creek would probably turn from relatively clear to conspicuously opaque yellow or red at the well-travelled Tobacco Trail trestle, even if erosion regulations were followed completely.

Is building around the gameland in Durham and Cary going to end deer hunting, and cause overpopulation, leading to overgrazing and danger on roads? Someone, perhaps the City or neighborhood associations, would then have to pay to control the deer population, where before hunters and nature checked the deer population at little or no cost. A high deer population can eliminate plant species from an area. Fews Ford at Eno River State Park seemed like a highly-grazed area when I was last there, which would make sense since hunting is banned in much of that part of the Triangle.

The former claypit has some value in itself and could be preserved in some form, though it would probably be difficult to erase completely anyway.

Historical names for the area and geographic features could be used in future construction, rather than naming things after “Southpoint” when they are far from the Mall, etc. In this case at least Kit Creek isn’t that far away to the south, though I don’t think it drains much or any of the site. One location was called Togo/Genlee and I will have to look up whether Oyama/Few was also in this area. Burdens Creek and its major tributaries, once all having names, is nearby, though it does not drain this site. People seem to like former industrial history downtown, and here is a rural site, possibly the source of some of the red brick buildings downtown.

NC55-Hopson

I am not necessarily against building anywhere on this vast site but I have several concerns about this application and some issues tied to this application but not addressed in any public meetings that I am aware of, especially road expansion.

The entire property and I think what is proposed for annexation extends from east of Highway 55 to within sight of Grandale Road, an area probably a mile or more across, and this is the site my comments address, not just the smaller, but still very large, portion the applicant wants rezoned Industrial Light. It appears that the staff report recommends just zoning Industrial, if IL is deemed acceptable, but I have not looked into what that would allow. There are also connected issues covering a larger area.

There is too much ambiguity about what would be built and where. It seems like the applicant might not want to build at the very north end, but there is no commitment and surveying is going on up to the powerline corridor as if something will be built there soon, visible from Grandale, especially with the Wrenn land clearcut. There would be few limits on construction near the neighbors, and much of the site was clearcut, including the portion closest to Audubon Park and Parkwood at the north end. The clearcutting is very convenient for the Kimley-Horn memorandum on the environmental condition of the site, though it should be noted that a field or young pine forest is still habitat for some species. Rare plants such as pink ladyslipper orchids might prefer relatively young pine forests and red-tailed hawks hunt over fields and clearcutting probably benefits the deer and maybe woodcocks. Kimley-Horn is listed as an “agent” in the Zoning Map Change Application, attachment 11, and therefore would seem to have a conflict of interest in evaluating the environmental conditions.

The publicly-owned bottomlands along Northeast Creek are noted as a “buffer,” but they are not that wide and I would like to hear some concern to avoid harm to this public land and those who use it. At times many vehicles can be seen parked along Grandale on a weekend. If deer hunting decreases because of building hemming in the Wildlife Resources Commission-managed, Federally-owned gameland there might be an increase in the deer population in nearby neighborhoods, which is probably already high compared to other counties in the State. I like our neighborhood deer herds, but there could still be problems. There is also the issue that some species might need larger areas of forest than just what is protected as public land, or species might need upland as well as bottomland habitat, so buildings and roads could lead to the loss of species within the gameland. There is also the issue of species associated with human activity, such as English ivy, Norway rats, and feral cats, coming in with building and harming native plants and animals, not that I liike seeing rat traps around shopping centers. Near the site I have seen some non-native trees common on vacant land downtown growing on the clearcut land and utility corridors, though so far they are uncommon.

There is talk of a 40-50-foot buffer around the site, but most of the land was completely cleared of trees. Since then a growing woods around 20 feet high or more has sprouted since then, so the site is again wooded, but it once had larger trees and more hardwoods. A wooded buffer could have been had freely, but if non-native species are planted, they could easily escape into the adjacent gameland, and clearcutting spreads some non-native plants.

The NC NHP inventory reports noted nesting black-and-white warblers and probably nesting sharp-shinned hawks and the presence of ribbon snakes as rare animal species in the areas studied along Northeast Creek at the south end of the County, as well as Douglass’ bittercress and other state or regionally rare or unusual plants, and there were otters and mink along the Creek. The area has not been re-surveyed since 1999. The most recent Durham report recommended that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommended that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along the Creek between 55 and 751. These recommendations directly relate to this rezoning application, but aren’t being brought up. I suggested to the Wildlife Resources Commission and US Army Corps of Engineers that the proposals in this area should be of concern to them.

This site is already vast, and I suspect that the Wrenn family’s land to the west, which was also recently clearcut, is available for sale. Does the applicant know something the public doesn’t? I am concerned that approving the rezoning under consideration will be the signal to sell more land in the area, so the near future of a larger area is in question today. Similarly there was a large amount of change along Ellis Road over a short period. The application seems to say that housing will be built along Grandale, as well as a new road. I only found out recently that the DCHCMPO plans to extend Hopson Road from 55 to Grandale and extend Grandale south in Chatham County. What are Cary’s plans along the county line? Is their plan to burden Durham to benefit Cary and other locations not in Durham County?

Until recently the government’s road plans in the area were only rumors for me; I thought the idea of a connecting road had been defeated decades ago and I was not aware of any proposals regarding Grandale. While it might not be ideal, there is already a connection between 55 and Grandale along the county line, but made harder to use by the changes along 55 around a decade ago. Speeding is a problem on Sedwick Road, but is the solution to increase traffic and no doubt speeding on Grandale? Would traffic on already dangerous Scott King Road, future site of an elementary school, increase? It seems like speeding traffic coming over sharp hills and around bends is such a problem on Scott King that even birds get killed. If Hopson were extended, there would still be a jog to get to Scott King Road, so would the DCHCMPO next want to extend Hopson to 751, crossing the very large and mostly unbroken publicly-owned forest along Northeast, Crooked, and Kit creeks and the Tobacco Trail? Or is this the reason they want to extend Grandale, presumably to O’Kelly Church Road, crossing Kit Creek? This application shows a road passing north of the abandoned claypit, which I think is also part of the site that still has older trees and steep slopes, and Federal land is located there. A lot of blasting would be required, since 4-lane Hopson currently ends at a steep hillside, on one of the highest ridges in the area. When they blasted away the hill at the corner of TW Alexander and 55 nearby, it could be heard for miles through the night, including where I live, and I think there were complaints to the police from Scott King Road. On the other hand it might allow easier access to the gameland it would degrade.

Building new roads obviously contributes to climate change, aside from the traffic and deforestation, and it would be redundant.

How would a new road change traffic patterns? Traffic has increased on Grandale, probably because of all of the recent building in Wake and Chatham counties, and there is a lot of roadkill at times. I saw a report demonstrating that the government knows that Grandale around Northeast Creek is a chokepoint for wildlife movement. Would the bridge be raised so that wildlife might tend to cross underneath, as was discussed where expanded 15-501 crosses New Hope Creek? A road basically paralleling Northeast Creek would be a problem for animals migrating between the uplands and the bottomlands, such as toads and marbled salamanders. The bend at the bridge on Grandale isn’t very safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and neither is Scott King Road, site of a future elementary school. A huge number of turkey and black vultures used to or still roost near Grandale at night and might be driven off, as well as other wildlife. The Kimley-Horn memorandum notes a report of a waterbird colony and I saw a large heron rookery near Grandale. I have heard that building new roads tends to increase traffic overall, rather than alleviating congestion, increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

It would be less polluting if the existing freight rail connection could be used for freight or passengers, but the tracks on the east side of 55.

If Grandale were widened, it would be good to improve parking at the bridge and maybe more traffic would decrease the risk of harassment and dumping there. I use that area and monitor the fireflies for the Massachusetts-based Firefly Watch program and there are other people who hike, hunt, or fish, and people probably still drive ATVs on the City, County, Federal, and Parkwood Association land. On the other hand maybe a new business park would be like the Ellis Research Center on Ellis Road east of 147 and put up permanent signs threatening the public on a public road and reflecting badly on Durham.

An IL zoning allows many possible uses, and there is not a guarantee about what would actually be built. I see that the applicant has now committed to forego certain uses on certain parcels, but there still isn’t a detailed site plan and other areas near Northeast Creek have no prohibitions. What would be built along 55 at the northeast corner of the site, near Northeast Creek and County facilities? It is possible that an office-type business park would be more environmentally benign than housing, though possibly an unkempt junkyard would be more benign than a business park with close-cropped, agrichemical and fossil fuel dependent, unnaturally green lawn and giant impervious aand unshaded parking lots, creating heat islands. Freight would increase traffic, air pollution, and windblown litter and waste management would probably also increase litter and air pollution.

Would IL zoning allow large greenhouses? There are some at research or manufacturing facilities in and around RTP. The “buffer” provided by Northeast Creek would not be enough to prevent a significant impact on Audubon Park and Parkwood. I live miles away from greenhouses near the intersection of TW Alexander and Highway 54 but I see an area of very bright orange or yellow light reflected by low clouds (higher clouds also get lit up, but the light is less glaringly obvious) for much of the night and when it is clear that light is still there, obscuring my view of the sky. This is a huge impact, but the UDO classifies all of this stray light as indoors and therefore not regulated, though the night sky is lit up for miles. I’m not sure that I have ever seen the Milky Way and light pollution in the Triangle most likely increases every year. The Stonesthrow apartments on South Alston next to Burdens Creek are adjacent to the greenhouses and have little need for streetlights when there are low clouds.

Greenhouses would have a large impact on the bottomlands along Northeast Creek, and there is the more ordinary light pollution from streetlights, parking lots, area lights and also noise. The area is currently relatively dark and this large rural area of forests and fields probably serves as a refuge for many nocturnal species. Fireflies of several species are numerous and for more than 10 years I have observed at a location on Grandale for the Firefly Watch program. Fireflies are much more abundant at Grandale than along my street and I see more species there, though I live near a small protected woodland. Bobcats have been seen not very far away at Jordan Lake and it is possible that they live at the south end of Durham and bobcats have been given as an example of a rare species driven out by human activity. I thought birds such as chuck-will’s-widow and whip-poor-wills had been driven out of the Triangle, but then I encountered one at the future elementary school site on Scott King Road, obviously trying to lead me away from a nest or chicks. River otters live in the Northeast Creek basin not far away if not near the site, and turkeys, prothonotary warblers, beavers, etc, have been seen adjacent to the rezoning site. At the neighborhood meeting a year ago someone mentioned seeing a bald eagle, and when I checked two weeks ago a bald eagle was audible from the rezoning site and landed on a tall snag nearby. I also saw wood ducks, a woodcock, red-headed woodpeckers, etc. similarly nearby.

What would be done to prevent chemical releases, including gases, adjacent to Northeast Creek? The applicant notes how far Audubon Park and Parkwood are from the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant and compares it to the distance between those communities and this site. At one time the WWTP probably had a large quantity of gaseous chlorine on site and it is my understanding that in the event of a serious leak that buffer would have been far too narrow for safety. Things have improved, but at one time the WWTP and/or the sewer lines could be smelled strongly in the Frenchman’s Creek and Audubon Park neighborhoods if not in Parkwood and the Creek had a strong chlorinated smell as it left Durham County around Grandale. I have heard from local government employees that Northeast Creek or other creeks have elevated copper levels because of fallout from a smelter downtown and organic chemicals that might come from nearby freeways. There is also the possibility of the escape of GMOs and disease-causing organisms.

Where would the utilities be located? Fragmenting a forest by putting in utility easements can end its utility for deep forest species and are literally in roads for cowbirds and non-native plants. I think there was discussion of building a pipeline for 751 South through here at one point. At that time I thought Durham had a policy of not extending water utilities south of Scott King.

The staff report lists many items that might be good to have in the planning process, but they are rendered useless without a development plan. There are obviously plants, animals, communities, and ecosystems on the site, since it is a location on the living Earth, though after mass grading the site would like more like a tract on a lifeless celestial body. It is very easy to not find things. I would be surprised if there are not any steep slopes, such as around the claypit and near 55, and the site must include wetlands, such as along the powerline. The claypit might also count as a wetland and looks like a lake in the City’s aerial photo.
There must be at least scattered archaeological remains on the hillsides overlooking Northeast Creek, not likely to be noticed during mass grading. and there is a small cemetery on the north side of Green Level Church Road near the claypit and 55. Small old cemeteries have been mistreated by builders in the Triangle.

I think local universities found significant reptile fossils in the claypit and it is part of the area’s history, so it would be good to preserve it in some form. I found plant fossils a few miles away. The claypit is a former industrial use, but as far as I know it is not at all a “brownfield,” and has been left in a natural state, without any buildings, though there have been tobacco barns in the general area. The area also once had a name, probably associated with a rail stop, that could be used for referred to today.

There are also igneous rock outcroppings in the area, which could encourage rare plants, besides the low level of disturbance by human activity in recent decades, aside from the clearcutting. Rare plants might be present along 55 and many not so uncommon wildflowers grow on the gameland and rural roadsides. The igneous rocks would probably complicate cutting through the hills for a road.

The scenic small stream flowing under 55 isn’t very intermittent and harbors surprisingly large fish, salamanders, crayfish, and other species even upstream, possibly holding water well because of the hard bedrock just beneath. It seems like an unusually diverse and valuable clear stream that doesn’t dry up completely, despite its short length.

Bull City Townhomes

If people live next to steep slopes or retaining walls, they might be tempted to throw their trash over the edge, as has happened elsewhere in Durham, and the trash might then wash into the tributary of Northeast Creek on the site and go into Jordan Lake.

Apparently the large pond at the corner was drained or broken by rain, which is unfortunate.

I find it hard to believe that the application claimed in an earlier document that there is basically no life in a waterway and that it is ephemeral, then intermittent, then ephemeral again – where does the water go? This is apparently based on inspections in April and May 2021, and there was an unusually severe spring drought that year and maybe the dam breach washed away the usual aquatic life or it was temporarily killed by unusually dry conditions. Should these determinations be based on such limited observations? Mistreating headwaters such as at this site is where the problems in Jordan Lake begin, and then Durham has to pay to fix them. It seems bizarre to buffer one section and not all of it and the neighbors would benefit from buffering along the property edge. Would they put a stormwater pond there? What would they plant? Non-native bushes, often introduced for buffers along roads and landscaping, are a problem along waterways upstream from Ellis Road. Beavers and fish live in the larger though still quite small tributary of Northeast Creek paralleling 147 nearby.

If I lived in the neighborhood I might not want more townhomes there and traffic seems like an increasing problem on Ellis. If I am not mistaken dense housing has also been approved nearby to the south on Ellis Road and east of 147. I don’t think there are any bus stops or continuous sidewalks in this formerly kind of rural area and commercial areas aren’t very nearby. The shoulders on Ellis and other nearby major roads are often narrow, deeply rutted, or soft and not very good for bicycling or parking, unless they have been improved recently.

Durham could have started an environmentally benign Northeast Creek trail network in the Ellis Road area, but it is losing the opportunity. There are some new private trails.

Where the red fire pink blows and other campions in the Triangle

Fire pinks seem to be very rare wildflowers in and around the Northeast Creek basin and possibly throughout the Triangle. I have only come across these bright red flowers with five deeply notched “pink” type petals at two locations in southern Durham County, on the edge of RTP. Fire pinks were the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s 2015 Wildflower of the Year, and free seeds were offered at the time ( ncbg.unc.edu/plants/nc-wildflower-of-the-year/ ; this year’s plant is the American beautyberry), so some might grow near the visitor center, but I haven’t seen them there myself. The first time I came across one of these unusual flowers might have been in May or possibly June off of South Alston not far from the border with Wake County, between the basins of tributaries Burdens Creek and Kit Creek. It might have been on a Sunday morning in late May 2001, also memorable because Sheriff deputies had a roadblock up the road, though there wasn’t much traffic. I stepped off the road along a rocky brook I think of as azalea brook in a somewhat open forest of pines and deciduous trees with sort of ‘dry’ soil where abandoned farmland was reverting back to forest on a late spring/early summer morning. I was familiar with the area because my Dad used to unicycle on a curcuit through the area on Saturday mornings and I sometimes joined by bicycle. The brook flows over slabs of solid bedrock, and the unusual igneous rock intrusions in the area might be the reason fire pinks and other rare flowers have grown there. On a high bank above a sharp bend there was an unusual wildflower maybe 1 to 3 feet high, probably bent over, with sparse leaves and striking red flowers that were sticky on the outside. On another occasion, maybe in the summer, I saw a single small fire pink on the edge of lawn on So Hi Drive near the Creek (maybe this was actually the first one I saw). Several years ago many fire pinks grew in a ditch at the edge of the woods across “Solutions Drive,” former South Alston, from what is now the back gate of the Social Security Administration’s secretive printing facility at 3604 Louis Stephens Drive, but more recently I have only seen yellow Jerusalem artichokes there (native flowers, despite the name). Wildflowers of North Carolina (Second Edition) calls fire pinks “weak perennials” and individual plants don’t seem to live very long. I went back to see the first plant I mentioned one or a few years later and there was no sign of it. I haven’t seen a fire pink in many years; possibly I haven’t been in the right habitat in the right season, but I think they must really be rare or I would come across them more often. They seem to prefer well-drained possibly poor soil with at least part-sun, and being shaded out by trees might be one reason individuals don’t live very long. They might benefit from periodic burning so they can get more sunlight.

Fire pinks (it seems like they could be called firepinks, but at most guides just hyphenate the name), also called Indian pinks and red or scarlet catchflies, are in the pink, campion, or carnation family (the Caryophyllaceae), as is star chickweed, a somewhat common early spring woodland wildflower, and several other sometimes showy flowers that should be found in the Triangle, though I haven’t encountered them myself. Like carnations and other pinks, fire pinks have opposite (paired) leaves and the stems are swollen at these nodes. The leaves are rounded and without serrations and when not in flower the plant is a clump of basal leaves. Fire pinks and related flowers often have a swollen calyx (the green sepals around the base of a flower) to varying degrees. Pink refers to their deeply notched petals, sometimes so deeply notched that they appear to have many petals, as is the case with star chickweed, not to their sometimes pink or red colors. “Pink” probably relates to pinking, as in pinking shears, scissors that make a zigzag cut in cloth, similar to the petal shape of many pinks. Catchfly refers to the stickiness of many of these species, not always around the flowers.

Fire pink’s scientific name is Silene virginica; it is unclear whether the generic name Silene refers to the Greek mythological figure Silenus, chief of the woodland satyrs and foster father and teacher of Dionysus, the god of wine, or to saliva (sialon in Greek), because of the stickiness. Both interpretations could be correct. The eFloras website says these flowers were or are called seilenos in Greek, possibly because Silenus got drunk and foaming. All About Alabama Wildflowers, an informative book that covers propagating and growing many wildflowers, compares distinctive projections low on the petals to hooves, satyrs sometimes sometimes being described as hooved. Both the genus and this species were named by Carl Linnaeus.

There are several species of native and introduced Silene in North Carolina, as well as less closely related flowers. Silene that might be found in the Triangle include the starry campion, also called star silene or widow’s frill (S. stellata); bladder campion or maiden’s-tears (S. cucubalus); sleepy catchfly (S. antirrhina); wild pink (S. caroliniana; it can hybridize with the fire pink); and night-flowering catchfly or sticky cockle (S. noctiflora). None are bright red, but in the Midwest royal catchfly, also called wild pink (S. regia), is another bright red Silene, and there are related flowers in the West that have been called Indian or fire pinks. Non-native bladder campions are named for their very enlarged calyx, and have also been called bird’s-eggs, fairy-potatoes, and rattle-bags. Also in the Triangle there might be non-native corn-cockles (Agrostemma githago) and mullein pink or dusty-miller (Lychnis coronaria). Lychnis comes from the Greek for flame, lamp, or light, another fiery color reference. White campion, also called evening lychnis or white cockle (L. alba), can be found elsewhere in the Carolinas. Species of Lychnis and Silene are very similar and are sometimes classified in one genus. There could also be soapwort or bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis), both names related to how it produces a soapy lather in water (bouncing bets were washerwomen).

There are many related native and non-native chickweeds, in more than one genus, and while they are probably best known as household weeds star chickweed is a bright white wildflower blooming in older woodlands along Northeast Creek around now, and stands out as the forest floor is cast into shade later this month. Its scientific name is Stellaria pubera; the generic name refers to stars and the specific name might refer to its minute fuzziness or puberulence. It is also called giant or great chickweed, wood starwort (some other chickweeds are also called starworts), winterweed, and birdseed and has five petals, but they are so deeply notched that five seems to be ten. Introduced common chickweed or starwort, S. media, is eaten by chickens and other birds (and so it has been called “the hen’s inheritance,” according to A Sampler of Wayside Herbs), and there is grass-leaf chickweed, also called lesser or common stitchwort, S. graminea, another non-native, as well as native and non-native mouse-ear chickweeds in the genus Cerastium.

Related Dianthus, such as carnations (D. caryophyllus), sweet william (D. barbatus), and the (garden) pink (D. plumarius) are common ornamental relatives from the Old World with many cultural associations around the world, including with International Workers’ Day (May 1st, labor day in many countries), International Women’s Day (March 8th), Mother’s Day (May 9th this year), both weddings and funerals, and carnations are one of January’s birth flowers. Sweet william and pinks grow wild in parts of the Carolinas, and Deptford pinks or grass pinks (D. armeria), another European introduction, can be found in the Triangle, according to the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. D. superbus, native from Europe to Japan, is called nadeshiko in Japanese, and Yamato nadeshiko refers to Japan’s traditional feminine ideal (Yamato is one of the many old names for Japan) and the national women’s soccer team is nicknamed Nadeshiko Japan.

A fire pink flower has five petals (with distinctive projections around the flower’s green throat), five sepals, ten male stamens, three female styles, and the deep tubular throat of the flower is ribbed longitudinally. The flowers are arranged in a wide and loose cluster called a cyme, in which the center flowers open first, and a fire pink probably has blooms over several weeks, producing flowers and ripe seedheads at the same time. Each flower can yield several brown seeds, in a bell-shaped capsule with six teeth at the top. There doesn’t seem to be any special means to spread the seeds, yet they seemed to spread far along that stretch of South Alston in only a few years, though there might have been more plants than I knew about.

According to Wildflowers of North Carolina, fire pinks can bloom April – July. The Illinois Wildflowers website ( www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/firepink.htm ) hypothesizes that they are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds and larger butterflies, which would make sense given their bright red color and tubular shape. It seems surprising that these relatively small flowers growing in dry soil would produce enough nectar to satisfy a hummingbird. The stickiness should deter ants and other insects from stealing the nectar without transferring pollen, as well as deterring pests. Bees can steal nectar by biting through the sides of flowers, such as morning glories and probably also coral honeysuckles, another red spring and summer flower, but fire pinks might be toughened against this. A Field Book of American Wild Flowers (first printed in 1902) says white starry campions attract clouded sulphurs, a medium-sized yellow butterfly, and moths. Some related campions, such as night-flowering catchfly and white campion, as well as soapwort, are stark white and fragrant, to attract moths, specifically including sphinx moths in the case of soapwort (according to A Naturalist’s Guide to Field Plants).

Fire pink flowers have both male and female parts (a perfect flower), but other Silene species have been used in the study of the genetic determination of sex in plants (and they have sex chromosomes similar to our own, though the phenotypic results can be much more complex than just producing male or female flowers) and they suffer from a sexually transmitted fungal disease that causes sterility. Some species of Silene also have exceptionally large or even the largest known mitochondrial genomes (these genes control a eukaryotic cell’s powerplants, the mitochondria, which might have originally been free-living prokaryotic cells).

I haven’t come across any information about herbivores of fire pinks. There are also seemingly few recorded cultural uses or associations with fire pinks. Fire pinks were apparently considered poisonous by some Indian groups, possibly because fire pinks were conflated with pink-root (Spigelia marilandica), also called Indian pink, a five-petalled red and cream-colored flower related to the early spring-blooming and poisonous (if eaten) yellow jessamine vine, South Carolina’s state flower. Pink-root and possibly fire pink were used to drive out intestinal worms. For some reason starry campion was once used to treat copperhead and rattlesnake bites, but this treatment has long been called useless. Old World campions, including bladder campion, were thought to have the power to stun scorpions and neutralize their stings, and maybe this idea was transferred to snakes. The leaves of both bladder campion and chickweeds can be eaten after boiling (some chickweeds are eaten raw). Reportedly people on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Minorca lived on bladder campion after locusts consumed their crops. Chickweed is or was even considered “a delicacy” in Europe, sold in markets and substituted for spinach (according to Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge Parkway). Several of these plants contain saponins, ranging from a poisonous level in soapwort to just adding a little bitterness in bladder campion. Saponins are surfactants and soapwort really can be used for cleaning, and has been called fuller’s herb for its use in the fulling (cleaning and thickening) of wool cloth.

The reason to think about fire pinks early this spring is because three rezoning requests will probably be coming up near where fire pinks have been found. First, a few years ago Durham County bought the large flat field bordered by NC 55, TW Alexander Drive, and two stubs of what was South Alston, “Solutions Drive” and “Experiment Drive.” Until about 13 years ago this was a large hill covered with a young pine forest; a house near the top had a commanding view up and down 55, with a few mimosas, sumacs, black locusts, or the like and winged elms over grass and herbs down to the highway, while blackberries bloomed along TW Alexander in April. The hill was blasted away day and night, reportedly trucked away as fill for NC’s first modern toll road and whatever was left was deposited in the abandoned claypit a short distance southwest across 55, on what was the continuation of South Alston into Wake County. I remember hearing it from miles away on balmy late spring or early summer evenings. When I went by the corner in late May it had already been mostly levelled, with a whitish or pale cliff at the south end. I think they were reported to the police several times for noise heard further west. Blasting the igneous and sedimentary innards of the hill might have rattled the County’s Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant, across 55 and dumping into Northeast Creek. There were plans for residential construction or a commercial strip mall at the corner, shown on some maps, but nothing was ever built. The site, about 40 acres, is addressed as 451 TW Alexander, 6001 NC 55, and 6026 Experiment Drive, probably where the farm’s driveway was (these parcels can be searched for through Durham’s Interactive Maps durhamnc.gov/1455/Interactive-Maps ). I thought management at the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant wanted the land for a sludge-drying facility, a valuable feature the plant currently lacks, but a community virtual meeting February 18th was about rezoning the site to Office and Industrial (from residential, commercial, and office zonings) for “a new Durham County Public Works Administration Building.” I was the only person who ‘attended’ the meeting. The presenters gave basically no information beyond what was in the brief Planning Department announcement about the meeting. I said what needed to be said, but I had a feeling that I had been insulted and there seemed to be little point to the meeting. Based on the very little that was said, I don’t have an objection to building an office building, but as I said then, it would be good if the landscaping fit with the unique features of the site, or if wildflowers were allowed to colonize the site naturally, and it seems likely that an office building wouldn’t take up all of the land. I haven’t seen any fire pinks at the site, but they could be there. Buttercups and probably Lespedeza or bush clover are abundant in the field and woodland spring ephemerals are currently blooming along a rock-lined stream I could call cane stream. The field used to be mown periodically, but even after that ended trees have been slow to return, and probably little real soil was left after the hill and its topsoil was carried away.

Business interests want to rezone a vast area of Triangle Brick Company land a short distance south of the above site, extending from the east side off 55, just south of the intersection of the new Hopson Road and 55, through the abandoned claypit off Greenlevel Church Road (formerly South Alston), as far west as the top of the ridge that can be seen from the Grandale Road bridge over Northeast Creek, a site that could be in all more than a mile across. Some of the land might not be in Durham County, but I think the proposal calls for building only in Durham. I’m suspicious about what such a project would mean for the land owned by the Wrenn family further west, along Grandale and Wake roads. Both of these vast areas were clearcut, the Triangle Brick Co.’s land around summer 2010 and the Wrenn land maybe in 2018 or before. The land immediately around Northeast Creek is owned by the Federal government and managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission as gameland and on the west side of 55 a large area is owned by Durham County. I think I was one of only two community members ‘attending’ the virtual meeting on January 26th, but the well-known lawyer Patrick Byker, the main presenter, must not have known I was there. I think the figure given was that this “assemblage” is in all 241 acres, and they want it all rezoned Light Industrial (some of it is currently Rural Residential) and annexed by the City of Durham, to build a business park with five to six short office or industrial buildings (similar to those built recently at the corner of Hopson and 54, I think it was said by the same company), with construction in stages, starting in the spring of 2022. These low-lying gamelands are NC Natural Heritage Program inventory sites, and this discouraged residential construction on Scott King Road near the Tobacco Trail about ten years ago (but a DPS elementary school will soon be built at the “Scott Mill” site). The bottomlands periodically inundated by Jordan Lake for flood control are protected as public lands, but species living on the protected land could be lost if they also need the surrounding rural uplands to live or if they require a larger habitat than just what is preserved on the government lands. A stark example is provided by two very large woodpeckers. Pileated woodpeckers don’t seem to like built up areas, but I often hear their calls along Northeast Creek and elsewhere in the Triangle and occasionally see one, while ivory-billed woodpeckers, which are much larger but similar in appearance, are now more like rumors or apparitions than living birds and might be completely extinct. The related Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker, a subspecies or a separate species, might also be extinct, as might the related imperial woodpecker of Mexico, apparently the largest woodpecker in the world if it still exists. I saw something like a breeding chuck-will’s-widow or whippoorwill in a scrap of woods at the school site on Scott King Road, rural birds that I thought had been driven out of the region (the bird, I assume a hen, was obviously trying to lead me away from a nest or chicks hidden nearby). The NHP inventory reports note nesting black-and-white warblers and probably nesting sharp-shinned hawks and the presence of ribbon snakes as rare animal species in the area, as well as Douglass’ bittercress and other state or regionally rare or unusual plants, and there were otters and mink along the Creek, but the area hasn’t been surveyed since 1999. The most recent Durham report recommends that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommends that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along Northeast Creek between 55 and 751, and a project south of the Creek there would probably require new Durham water and sewer connections and lift stations to get over the hills, and maybe new electrical infrastructure as well. I think there was discussion of building a utility easement through here for 751 South at one point and earlier there was discussion of a road extension.

Lastly, during this economic crisis there is a rezoning proposal at the intersection of Northeast Creek Parkway and So Hi Drive (2102 So Hi Drive, on the south, RTP side of the intersection), near the Triangle Curling Club building and extending towards the intersection of Northeast Creek Parkway and East Cornwallis Road. Northeast Creek flows through this large, long undisturbed wooded site and the site also includes a small amount of land on the north side of the Parkway. It is owned by Parmer Woodlands 3 LLC, with an address in Carlsbad, California. Similarly named LLCs with the same address own much of the north end of RTP and March 23rd there was a Board of Adjustment hearing over rear parking lot landscaping at a very large project already being built a short distance beyond the Creek, but hidden by the forest (it has the addresses 2152 and 2362 So Hi Drive and 224 Northeast Creek Parkway, but doesn’t seem to connect, at least for now). I must have been the only person ‘attending’ the community meeting, which was also the evening of February 18th. They want the site rezoned as Science Research Park, from Rural Residential, to build two office buildings, but it was not entirely clear if the proposal is to build along the road, so Northeast Creek wouldn’t be crossed. I have seen many locally rare plants nearby, including horsetails, liverwort (the non-flowering plant), toothworts, Hepatica (a pale blue early spring flower sometimes called liverleaf or liverwort), star chickweed, at least one large Catawba Rhododendron (it is unclear if someone planted it long ago or if it really is the last of its kind along Northeast Creek, and a few years ago it was narrowly missed by a logging road), serviceberries (probably done blooming by now; their fruit is apparently a favorite food of chuck-will’s-widows), spicebushes, Penstemons, and umbrellatrees, deciduous magnolias with huge leaves that usually bloom by the start of May. Umbrellatrees seem to be much more common in Wake County than west, and perhaps fire pinks are also more common in the Neuse River basin. There are numerous beaver ponds, some visible from Northeast Creek Parkway near Cornwallis. These two ends of RTP where fire pinks grow (or grew) are also some of the few places where there are pinxterflowers, deciduous native azaleas a bit more common than fire pinks, with elegant honeysuckle-like nearly white to light pink or purple, fragrant flowers in late April, another sight to see before the Silene’s fiery red as summer’s heat begins.

What a Thirteen Years It Has Been

In February 2006, I and ten others gathered at the Grandale Road bridge over Northeast Creek to do stream monitoring and go on a hike to see spring ephemerals. Michael Pollock had a water sampling kit from City of Durham Stormwater Services, and after we tested samples from the west side of the bridge, led us on a hike.

Walking along the Corps of Engineers boundary trail on the south side of Northeast Creek, we saw trout lilies and foamflowers that had just begun blooming. Walking up the natural gas easement back to Grandale Road, we could look northwest across the creek valley to where the gas easement crossed Scott King Road.

In April we tested Northeast Creek at an accessible meander just north of Sedwick Road. And then we went for a hike to see the budding trees and the spring flowers. The red maples glowed pink; the oaks were light green; some of the trees had a bluish cast. Stepping along the soggy ground of the sewer easement was challenging, but the world of the Parkwood wetland that we were walking alongside offered more natural beauty to explore.

In May, we tested again at the Grandale Road bridge. This hike explored the east side of Grandale Road and up the powerline maintenance access road. Toward the top of that hill, we crossed over to the Northeast Creek stream channel, which we viewed from rock bluffs on the south edge of Parkwood.

I was hooked. Northeast Creek Streamwatch was the organization that understood what my wife and myself had seen in 1993 behind the Food Lion store on NC 55. We had seen a wetland with submerged trees and saplings. A great blue heron was perched on one of the saplings; a green heron perched on a slightly larger sapling nearby. That swamp has now become an open pond in flood times, most of the trees drowned. Beavers and property owners have re-engineered the water flow many times over the last 25 years. And I have become committed to preserving our Triassic Basin wetlands, their flora, and fauna for my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren to be able to appreciate.

In the 13 years since then, the “we” that is the evolving association of people identifying with Northeast Creek Streamwatch have seen:
• Regular participation in the Parkwood Christmas Parade by puppets of a great blue heron, beavers, an opossum, and frogs.
• Spring and fall clean-ups of creeks that result in piles of dumped items for Durham Solid Waste to pick up the next week after Earth Day, Big Sweep or Creek Week.
• A class at Parkwood Elementary School about sand, clay, and silt and third graders planting and labeling native plants for a WaterWise garden.
• Library programs on the native plants of Northeast Creek and the techniques of rainwater harvesting.
• A kayak touring company that did trips up from the mouth of Northeast Creek at the NC 751 bridge almost to Panther Creek in Chatham County.
• Hikes along a Jurassic diabase dike formation to the ruins of Sears Mill, an old mill on Panther Creek.
• Testing at Northeast Creek crossing of Grandale Road, Sedwick Road, Ellis Road, and in Meridian Center.
• An umbrella magnolia by Northeast Creek at Ellis Road bridge.
• The descent of a source of Northeast Creek down a steep slope by the Durham Freeway as the creek crosses under the bridge on Glover Road, passes through a steep gully and crosses under the Durham Freeway.
• The seep behind an office near NC55 and Riddle Road that is one of the sources of the prong of Northeast Creek that flows just west of NC 55 down to Meridian Park.
• The runoff from US70 north of Miami Boulevard that flows through the parking lot of pawn shop and into woods into the back yards of folks on Peyton Avenue, yet another source of Northeast Creek; this tributary flows through Bethesda Park..
• A dump site adjacent to the creek of over 50 years duration that is grown up with red cedars, winged elm, and oodles of vines.
• Sandstone caves beneath a bluff supporting leatherwood.
• The wetlands at Ellis and So-Hi roads that extend through the RTP properties of major companies and warehouse complexes.
• The main stream of Northeast Creek in flood at the NC 54, Sedwick, and Grandale bridges.
• A crew from Hillside New Technology cleaning the litter from the blackberry growth next to the NC 54 bridge over Northeast Creek during Big Sweep.
• A mother who brought her son from their neighborhood in North Durham to participate in a clean-up of the creek that feeds Parkwood Lake because she wanted to teach him a service ethic.
• The awarding of Durham’s Distinguished Tree designation to a white ash in Parkwood and a scarlet oak on the Lowes Grove Middle School property near the creek.
• The effects of the 2007 drought at the mouth of Northeast Creek, the appearance of a prairie of grass mat strewn with large mussel shells.
• Snow and ice in the Parkwood wetlands in a picturesque meander that Durham Water and Sewer later repaired with a culvert..
• Neighbors and their acquaintances reporting sewer leaks and stormwater issues to us and we getting to see that they are indeed efficiently handled.
• The Creek Critters Puppets marching as the Krewe de Creek in the Durham Mardi Gras Parade and promoting the 2016 Durham Creek Week.
• The Monarch Caterpillar art project from Fayetteville Street Elementary School at the Monarch Festival along with the students that made it and their parents.
• The recognition as Durham Soil and Water Conservation District’s Urban Conservationist of the Year in 2016.
• The support of some 40 volunteers in the construction of Parkwood Village Association’s Wiggly Trail , erosion control, and native plant garden. Completing this project with volunteer labor and donations in-kind to match a $2500 City of Durham neighborhood improvement project grant.
• Continued collaboration with Parkwood Village Assocation, Parkwood Homeowners Association, Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Lowes Grove Middle School, Parkwood Elementary School, South Durham Regional Library, South Durham Farmers Market, and local scouts as well as many longstanding individual partners.

In the coming year the wildness will continue as we seek to grow participation in these initiatives:

Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors – The grassroots network of property owners and residents working on their own to conserve their own part of the Northeast Creek basin. Opportunities and tools to serve them are rainwater retention ideas, planting native plants, removing invasive plants, local creek clean-ups, adopting storm drains, adopting stream segments, adopting highways for cleaning litter. Citizen science activities include Audubon’s Backyard Bird Count, iNature.org, and many others. For additional citizen science opportunities, contact the NC Botanical Garden and the NC Museum of Natural Science.

Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors serves as a network to involve local schools and churches at the local level in local projects, which over the 47 square miles of the Northeast Creek basin means that seemingly small local efforts can result in large results on Lake Jordan’s quality just as small amounts of negligence have added up to a large excess nutrient problem for Lake Jordan.

Water Stewardship Network – The supporting network of schools, churches, government agencies, businesses, and voluntary associations that have an impact on Northeast Creek and ally with similar groups in other watersheds. These institutions support individual efforts as part of Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors. These are the locations of events, demonstration projects like gardens or rainwater treatments, and educational programs. They are Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors for their own property. Northeast Creek Streamwatch’s water stewardship network can tie into the North Carolina Watershed Stewardship Network (http://wsnet.renci.org/huc_report/index.html?huc=030300020605).

Creek Week and Big Sweep Events – The twice a year momentum builder for local efforts. They get people out into the stream environment and wetlands, show the natural beauty, and get something tangible accomplished with a very short commitment of time. This year’s Creek Week is March 17-23, 2019. Start planning local events for March 15 -23 and notifying colleen@northeastcreek.org.

Tenth Anniversary – Statement of Appreciation for Founder Michael Pollock

Michael Pollock holding up a hub cap during an Earth Day clean up in 2006
Michael Pollock holds up a hub cap cleaned from Northeast Creek at the Grandale bridge on Earth Day, April 22, 2006

At the Parkwood Flea Market in early October 2006, Michael Pollock stood at a table recruiting members for Northeast Creek Streamwatch, an organization to conduct volunteer stream monitoring of Northeast Creek, a tributary of New Hope Creek (Jordan Lake). Michael had responded to publicity from the City of Durham Stormwater Services environmental education office for volunteer stream monitors. It is hard to believe that after ten years Northeast Creek Streamwatch is still here, thanks in part to Michael’s persistence.

Michael Pollock grew up wandering the tributaries of Northeast Creek as a youngster, exploring the nature of the banks and wetlands near his home in the Parkwood subdivision of Durham. As he grew older, he wandered farther, read more, learned more and followed the path of nature writing. Today, Michael still contributes articles to the Parkwood Inside/Out, but he has added the Chatham County Line, and also this site, the blog portion of the Northeast Creek Streamwatch website.

Michael attended the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where he studied biology and anthropology. He is knowledgeable about the local plants and amphibians of the area, with a special interest in the local salamanders.

When Northeast Creek Streamwatch has an information table at community events, you can generally find Michael showing frogs, a salamander, or whatever he was able to find in the creek that morning or a collection of local rocks that he has picked up over the years.

If you want to explore the main stream of Northeast Creek, you can go on one of Michael’s quarterly stream monitoring visits to the creek or one of his nature hikes. A favorite time is when the spring ephemerals are out in the Corps of Engineers game land along Northeast Creek at Grandale Drive.

The people of Northeast Creek Streamwatch appreciate the fact that Michael Pollock got us going; yes, he’s the founder. We appreciate his sharing his knowledge with us. And we celebrate the ten years that we’ve kept Michael’s project going even as its activities have evolved. Thank you, Michael.

Durham Watershed Improvement Project in Northeast and Crooked Creeks Begins Monday

From the City of Durham:

Stream Walks Help the City Identify Potential Watershed Improvement Projects

Beginning Monday, September 12, Durham residents who live in the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek watersheds may see scientists and field crews in orange vests walking along the creeks as the City of Durham begins field work for a study aimed at revitalizing the health of these creeks and its surrounding areas.

[pullquote]Durham residents who live in the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek watersheds may see scientists and field crews in orange vests walking along the creeks as the City of Durham begins field work for a study aimed at revitalizing the health of these creeks and its surrounding areas.[/pullquote]

According to Sandra Wilbur, project manager with the City’s Stormwater Services Division, over the next three weeks residents living in the assessment area, which encompasses over 40 miles of streams, may see field crews walking through neighborhoods and along streams in the watershed. These crews will present their identifying credentials and project information sheets upon request. Some of the neighborhoods included in the assessment are Emorywood, Carpenter Fletcher Road, Parkwood, Audubon Park, and Woodlake.

The goals of the project are to improve the health of creeks and ensure compliance with water quality regulations. The first step in meeting these goals is learning about current conditions of the watersheds. In June and July, field crews evaluated stormwater control measures that filter polluted runoff in each watershed. Examples of these measures include stormwater ponds, wetlands, and bioretention areas.

“Our field crews will assess the streams in the project area for overall stream quality, including evidence of stream bank erosion, pollution sources, and other water quality problems,” Wilbur said. “The teams will also identify restoration potential of specific stream reaches. After the field work is completed, we’ll use the engineering analysis and public input to develop a prioritized list of potential improvements projects.”

Residents interested in providing input to help shape the project and prioritize the water quality improvement opportunities may participate in the stream walks or attend public meetings that will be announced at a later time during this project. To view a map of areas that are included in the assessment or the project schedule, visit the City’s website at www.DurhamNC.gov/Stormwater or contact Wilbur at (919) 560-4326, ext. 30286 or via e-mail at Sandra.Wilbur@DurhamNC.gov