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Update: Douglas Creek Project Moving Along

Posted by Bethany Semancik -

The Douglas Creek project in Meadowbrook Park is about three-quarters finished, and already water is flowing more freely and crayfish, frogs, bluebirds and deer are taking advantage of newly created habitat.

Caitlin Lill, project manager for the Urbana Park District, said the $180,000 renovation progressed rapidly this summer and fall. Invasive trees and brush that choked the stream were cleared and the banks were graded. A number of good-quality trees were saved, including hackberry and cottonwood.

Three rock riffles and a "pocket wetland" were put in, a number of white and burr oaks were planted and the area was reseeded with prairie grasses and forbs. By fall, crayfish and northern cricket frogs were living it up in the wetland, and there were deer tracks all around. Bluebirds were building nests.

More trees and shrubs go in next spring: oaks, button bush, redbud, red-osier dogwood, and arrowwood and nannyberry viburnum. By fall of 2016, walkers on the trail should see plenty of grass and forb growth as early-starting "pioneer species" establish themselves. Slower, more conservative species should begin establishing themselves the year after. "By 2017 it should be pretty spectacular," said Derek Liebert, park district planning and operations superintendent.

I stopped by the park district office recently to get an update from Lill and Liebert on the project, which I wrote about in the June 2015 Field Notes. Both seemed pleased with the way the work was going.

They were appreciative of an Audubon Society grant and generous donations from brothers Michael, Paul and Howard Walker, in honor of their parents, and from Charlene Anchor and residents of nearby Yankee Ridge Subdivision.

Douglas Creek is fed by farm tile at the park's southeast corner, and meanders west until it joins McCullough Creek, which runs into the Embarras River and eventually into the Mississippi. Planned for years, the renovation moved up in priority recently because failed tiles and slow-moving water had silted up the creek and raised the streambed grade, causing upstream fields to flood.

That problem appears to have been mostly solved. "The water hasn't stopped running since October," Lill said. "The stream flow is much better. It's flowing all the way down to McCullough Creek."

The current project involves about 1,000 feet of stream, from the eastern property line to a bridge just past Peter Fagan's sculpture, "Marker," also known as "the naked lady." Renovation of the stream from there on to McCullough Creek is less critical and will probably be less involved and expensive, Liebert said. It is on a list of possible future projects.

— By John Palen (2012)

PHOTOGRAPHS: Before the renovation got under way, willows and other trees choked the streambed and the banks were overgrown with brush. Now many trees remain, but the banks are cleared, more gently sloped and replanted with native seed. Stream flow is improved, and rock riffles create habitat. The map shows major features of the project.

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