Celebrating creeks, the ‘capillaries’ of our water system

In April 1980, Mary Reynolds and Jennifer Reid, both 11, landed a crayfish from Briar Creek under Providence Road. Photo: Charlotte Observer archives via Keeping Watch project

Think of an important waterway: You’re probably picturing a rushing river, a huge lake or a roaring waterfall. 

But what about the humble creek running through the woods near your house? That’s where most of our waterways start, and if those creeks aren’t healthy, our larger waterways won’t be healthy either. 

Creek Week is a “weeklong celebration of local waters throughout North Carolina,” hosted by various counties across the state. Rowan County’s first ever Creek Week took place August 17-24 (Mecklenburg’s was held in March). The Rowan County Soil and Water Conservation District sponsored this Creek Week, and over 20 different organizations participated, hosting a variety of events. 

Rivers, streams and creeks play an important role in the ecosystem. Creeks are the smallest units. They feed streams and rivers, and so are often the origination for surface water from rainwater or groundwater. Plants and animals congregate around creeks and rivers because water is essential to life. Creeks, streams and rivers also provide critical habitat for many species, including fish, wading birds, waterfowl, mussels, salamanders and more. 

Whatever pollutants collect in rainwater and feed into creeks will end up in streams and rivers. ​That’s why it’s important to prevent soil erosion, minimize the use of fertilizers and chemicals in our yards, not dump yard waste in drains or creeks, and do what we can to prevent runoff. Planting trees, installing rain gardens, and using permeable materials for driveways are some ways you can help protect our creeks. Ultimately, creeks will drain to the rivers from which we get our drinking water, too. 

[Learn more about our creeks from the Keeping Watch project]

For my part, as an employee of Three Rivers Land Trust, I led a hike at the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve in the town of Spencer.

Participants in Rowan County Creek Week. Photo: Crystal Cockman

This great nature preserve is located at the end of Eleventh Street close to downtown Spencer. (Don’t be confused by the address of Eleventh Street, as there are two 11th Streets within a few blocks of each other – this location is the one closest to the town of Spencer). The 42-acre park was protected through a partnership between Three Rivers Land Trust and the Town of Spencer a few years ago, and includes 2.5 miles of hiking trails, two wooden shelters and a pond with a floating observation dock. 

Storms skirted the town, and we heard rumbles of thunder before we got started. With Kelli Isenhour, the leader of Creek Week in Rowan with the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, I led a group of hikers on the 2.5-mile loop around the forest.

We had a brisk hike through the preserve, hoping to make it out before the storm hit. The property is a beautiful mature hardwood forest, and the land trust worked with the town to acquire the property from a developer who otherwise could have clear-cut the trees. This mature forest is home to a variety of wildflowers in springtime, though many of those had bloomed out by the time of our hike. We did see other species of native plant common to hardwood forests, including wild ginger and black cohosh.

There are some small creeks and drainages along the trail, and we stopped to look for bugs and salamanders. Though we didn’t find any of the latter, we did spot some roly-poly bugs under a decomposing log. A black dragonfly perched on the preserve sign near the pond. We made it back to our cars just before the bottom fell out of the sky and poured rain.

Next time you’re in the Spencer area, consider visiting the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve. It’s a great place for a short hike with friends at lunch, or a neat location for a family picnic. It’s always good to be reminded about the value of our creeks and waterways. We must all do our part to keep them clean and healthy.

Crystal Cockman is Land Protection Director at the Three Rivers Land Trust.