STREAMWALKS:  AN OPPORTUNITY TO INCREASE AWARENESS AND RECREATION IN THE DOG RIVER WATERSHED

 

Jason T. Kudulis, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, 36688.  Email:  Nugtmunchr@hotmail.com. 

            The goal of my field work was to seek out sites for streamwalk activities in the Dog River watershed.  Due to time constraints, I limited my research to the western reaches of Dog River.  I am trying to identify tributaries that are navigable by foot, so that citizens can traverse the local watershed with both recreation and conservation in mind.  To gather data I used topographic maps and Google to view the study area.  After choosing several locations, I visited each site to observe accessibility and the chance citizens would visit them.  I quickly found that the density of vegetation along creeks in my study area is abundant.  However, I still found several interesting concrete tributaries that can be used with relative ease.  I am recording location data and some general information for the public to use.  My analysis of the area found several worthy streamwalks.  I believe the sites could be used as a foundation to create a larger streamwalk network in the Dog River watershed, ultimately leading to a healthier watershed and greater local support.

            Keywords:  Streamwalk, Watershed, Dog River.


Introduction:

 

            My research is an attempt to increase public awareness of areas in the Dog River watershed where streamwalks may be carried out.  Before I get into detailed research, let me first explain what a streamwalk is.  A streamwalk is exactly how it sounds, participants physically assess conditions and identify potential hazards by traversing a stream.  To collect and analyze data, a simple form is filled out by participants during or after the streamwalk (App. A).  The form includes questions relating to the stream and its surroundings.  Also known as a “stream survey,” a streamwalk should encompass the stream and its adjacent surroundings.  Distance traveled by volunteers can vary depending on the accessibility, age and interest of the participants.  Most streamwalks range from a few hundred yards to a couple of miles. 

Streamwalks serve two very important purposes, resource evaluation by means of data collection and community stewardship (NRCS, 2005).  According to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) the advantages of streamwalks include:  determining conditions of streams and surrounding areas, educating people about watersheds and water quality, detecting specific pollution problems so they may be corrected, and identifying sites for water quality monitoring (ADEM, 2005). Participants could include anyone, but specific groups such as elementary classes, 4H clubs, scout troops, environmental groups, recreational users, landowners and watershed stakeholders would be ideal (ADEM, 2005).

  Utilizing data from streamwalks can be important to community planners.  Once problems are identified conservation measures can be taken.  Of equal importance is the boost in community involvement generated by streamwalks.  Volunteers in direct contact with surrounding resources better understand human-environmental interaction (NRCS, 2005).  Also volunteers gain a sense of pride and stewardship for their local river systems.

While researching I found a model streamwalk program that has been successful at both watershed education and community involvement.  The Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition (PRWC) of Connecticut created a streamwalk program in 1999.  Currently, the PRWC has eighty seven volunteers who surveyed 44 of 78 sites so far (PRWC, 2005). 

              I feel strongly that a project of this kind in the Dog River watershed will be beneficial.  Through research I have found that currently there are no listed streamwalks for the Dog River watershed.  It is imperative that I locate and assess potential sites within the Dog River watershed for future streamwalks.


Research Question:

            Before I can introduce streamwalk candidates, I must first discover if the Dog River watershed has suitable tributaries for streamwalking.  Much of the Dog River watershed lies within city limits or in some thick brush, so you can imagine many of its tributaries may not be accessible to the general public.  This leads to my hypothesis:  Does the Dog River watershed have appropriate sites for streamwalks; if so, where are the sites located and how can they be accessed?


Methods:

            To answer my hypothesis I first familiarized myself with the Dog River watershed by examining maps, particularly the 1982 Springhill 7.5 minute Quadrangle 1:24,000 scale and satellite images provided by Google.  Upon examining the area I recorded several locations I believe to have potential for streamwalks (Fig 1).  I went out to each site and took a preliminary streamwalk, I paid close attention to each site’s potential as a streamwalk.  My guidelines for “potential,” included:  accessibility, density of vegetation, distance traveled, scenery, and overall enjoyment.  With the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) I recorded the latitude and longitude of each site and the distance traveled.  After I visited each site I broke my information down to conclude which sites best suited my guidelines.  Finally, I highlighted four sites I believe to be quality locations for the public to use (Fig 2).  I feel it necessary to note I did not discriminate sites based on appearance or influence by man, every tributary was applicable as a candidate.


Results:

            Narrowing down the initial field of choices was tough because there are a lot of tributaries flowing into Dog River.  But then again it was easy because the majority of them could be eliminated quickly.  What I mean by eliminated quickly is that most of the natural streams were isolated from view by thick vegetation and overgrowth (Fig 3).  It was good to see that many of the streams had developed natural protection; although they will remain elusive thus removing them from my research.  Eventually I choose four sites I would recommend to the public as streamwalks.  They are:  Spencer Branch on Demotropolis Road, Spring Creek at Halls Mill Road and Hwy 90, Moore Creek at Halls Mill Road and West Eslava Creek at McGregor Road (See Fig 2). 

Spencer Branch runs under Demotropolis about one mile west of Hwy 90, it is a concrete ditch about 15 feet in diameter.  Public parking can be found where Woodcliff Drive meets Demotropolis adjacent to the bridge.  Coordinates N 30° 38.004’, W 88° 09.407’ (Fig 4).  Walking alongside Spencer Branch won’t take you very far, about 0.2 miles to the east or west.  I suggest using the access ladders to get directly in the creek.  Unless there has been a terrible storm, water level will not be a problem.  On the days I visited there was less than 2’’.  Upon climbing into Spencer Branch the length of your streamwalk can vary immensely, I walked 0.4 miles one way to the east and west.  I believe you could walk all the way to Cottage Hill or Hwy 90 if desired.  Walking in the concrete structure was surprisingly an enjoyable experience.  It is quiet and peaceful and I was glad to see very little trash.  It is not a strenuous walk in the ditch.  I did my streamwalk with no shoes!

Close to Spencer Branch is Spring Creek, it can be accessed at Halls Mill Road adjacent to “Two Dollar Bills,” restaurant.  Ample parking can be found at the restaurant.  Coordinates N 30° 36.787’, W 88° 09.241’ (Fig 5).  Spring Creek is a short streamwalk that can be completed in little time.  The day I had the GPS out there the batteries died so I could not record distance, I would estimate it at about 300 yards long and 30’ across.  Spring Creek is framed in gabions but vegetation is present and resembles a near natural look.  Many aquatic critters and birds call Spring Creek home and can be seen most often.  It is an enjoyable walk alongside the creek.  I wouldn’t recommend getting in it however there are snakes.

  Moore Creek dead-ends into Montlimar Creek.  This merging is located where Halls Mill Road and Azalea Road meet.  Coordinates N 30° 37.583’, W 88° 08.177’ (Fig 6).  This location is a fairly well known fishing spot for some of the locals.  The creek appears to have a fair amount of bass and brim, probably even some carp and mullet.  At the bridge there is parking on either side in parking lots.  As it stands, the creek is below the trail about 10’ so your field of observation is great.  I walked east toward I-10 during my visits; you will see a trail from the city workers.  I walked 0.4 miles one way towards the east and I estimate it is about 1.0 mile to I-10.  To the west Moore Creek runs upstream to where Spencer Branch dead-ends into it.  I didn’t go very far the times I was there but I believe this route is for advanced hikers or thrill seekers only.

And last but not least is West Eslava Creek.  Traveling south down McGregor Avenue just before Airport Blvd you will find a narrow concrete stream about 15’ across.  Coordinates N 30° 40.770’, W 88° 08.896’ (Fig 7).  That is West Eslava Creek, it is in a busy part of town and parking is terrible.  Perhaps weekends and early mornings would be better.  Despite the parking problem accessing the creek is easy.  The slope heading to the water isn’t steep.  I recommend walking in this creek because property lines prevent walking alongside it.  The water was flowing smoothly and it was about 6-10’’.  It appears West Eslava Creek keeps a fair amount of water; I say that because the bottom had a healthy amount of aquatic grass growing.  I walked east 0.3 miles one way just behind Yester Oaks Apts.  Heading west will take you toward the Mobile Country Club.  I thought Eslava Creek was great, nice to get your feet wet and explore.


Conclusion:

            Throughout my investigation of streamwalks in the Dog River watershed I was never let down by my findings.  I am confident that anyone with a taste for the outdoors would enjoy each of the four streamwalks.  I felt each site had unique qualities, making each streamwalk different from the other.  In the four streamwalks I chose, I thought it more important to give people the exact location of the streamwalks and some basic information rather than eye popping detail for fear of ruining someone’s personal experience.  None of the streamwalks I found were dangerous and I never saw any “no trespassing” signs, nor were they difficult to access or walk.   

            In conclusion, I believe Spring Creek’s ability to accompany large groups and with lots of parking and short distance could serve as a site for beginners.  Spencer Branch is not well known except by families living along its banks.  Providing solitude and open space for streamwalking Spencer Branch is worth checking out.  With Moore Creek visitors are exposed to the site of the worst sediment deposit in the Dog River watershed.  Also the walk is interesting and there is plenty of wildlife.  And in West Eslava Creek participants will be exposed to a channelized stream in one of the most densely populated areas of Mobile.  Still able to flow freely I found West Eslava Creek to be my favorite of the four.

Obviously for the Dog River Clearwater Revival (DRCR) to get results such as those of the PRWC, volunteers and effort are needed.  However to see the success of a streamwalk project in a watershed almost identical in size (90sq. mi.) to Dog River should provide some insight into a streamwalk’s potential.  These four streamwalks only lay the foundation.  This project leaves much to be expanded on; I encourage anyone to continue this delightful research. 

Our community, with help from the DRCR is already showing signs of increased awareness of watershed health.  DRCR has volunteers who locate water quality monitoring sites; that information in turn has indeed increased public awareness and influenced local water policy (AWW, 2004).  I believe that participation in streamwalks will increase the frequency of data and also broaden the community’s awareness.

 

References Cited:

 

Alabama Department of Environmental Management, 2005.  Alabama Water Watch Streamwalk Activity.  http://www.adem.state.al.us/Education%20Div/Nonpoint%20Program/ResourceMat/streamwalk.pdf  Accessed 2/20/06.

 

AWW, 2002.  Alabama Water Watch Water Chemistry Monitoring.  Auburn University

 

AWW, 2004.  Citizen Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring on Alabama’s Coast.  Dog River, Alabama Water Watch September 2004.  Auburn University

 

Connecticut USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2005.  Streamwalk Guidebook available at:

http://www.ct.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/communities/streamwalk_initiative.html Accessed

3/4/06

 

Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition, 2005.  Volunteer Streamwalk Program:  Summary Report and Proposed Action Plan. 

http://www.pomperaug.org/pdf/VSWR_March05.pdf  Accessed 3/6/06

 

USGS, 1982Spring Hill Quadrangle 7.5-Minute Series Map.

 

 

Appendix:

 Link to the Streamwalk Activity Survey Form:  http://www.adem.state.al.us/Education%20Div/Nonpoint%20Program/ResourceMat/streamwalk.pdf