Durham Herald Aug. 21, 2004

Part of Third Fork Creek to be rerouted; trees planted on its banks


DURHAM -- A creek that flows through Forest Hills Park is getting needed repairs that could help improve the water in Jordan Lake.

The banks of Third Fork Creek are eroding and the water quality is suffering, but there is a plan to change that, officials say.

The project, scheduled to begin next week, aims to restore a 3,000-foot section, with thousands of trees and shrubs being planted along the banks.

The result, officials say, should be a creek that carries less sediment and fewer nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous into Jordan Lake.

"Sediment is a pollutant, so reducing that is an immediate benefit to the lake," said city Storm Water Manager Paul Wiebke. "The banks in a lot of the areas of the park are vertical; they are severely eroded. This is going to stabilize the banks and reduce the amount of sediment load."

It's not hard to spot signs of erosion at the creek. Hundreds of tree roots poke out of the soil, and the water has carved trails through the banks.

A primary reason for the erosion is because sometime between the 1930s and 1950s, the creek likely was straightened and deepened to speed up storm water drainage, said Perry Sugg, the project's manager, who works for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. While it may have solved some drainage problems at the time, he said, it hurt the creek in the long run.

"By doing that, you have higher velocities of storm water going through there, which starts eroding the banks, and at the same time, a lot of the vegetation and trees have been removed," Sugg said.

Workers will begin rerouting a straight section of the creek next week to create a more winding path through Forest Hills Park. The move will help reduce erosion by slowing down the flow of water, and the entire project is expected to take about four months.

Once the straight portion has been rerouted, more than 5,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted along the creek's banks to help stabilize them. The vegetation also will help filter out pollutants from storm-water runoff and ground water before they make it to the creek.

The trees and shrubs also are expected to encourage more wildlife to live in the area, and will help cool the water, promoting aquatic life, Sugg said.

Most of the trees will be seedlings, but there are plans to plant several large trees as well. The rerouted portion of the creek will go around existing trees, Wiebke said, leaving them undisturbed.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Ecosystem Enhancement Program, which is providing funding for the project, will oversee it for five years. Then the city will take over maintenance responsibility.

"This is great for the city, [because] it is going to restore a channel that's been degraded for some time," Wiebke said.

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