What do creeks mean to you?

Snapping turtles in the spring. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

The answer to that question will vary. Animal lovers may immediately think about the fascinating creatures found in and near creeks and ponds, such as the snapping turtles above. People who like to fish may look for different species in nearby waterways. Photographers may hope to see more elusive animals that are at home in the water, like otters and beavers. And those interested in the environment and climate change may see creeks, ponds and lakes as monitoring stations to assess how well we are doing in conserving our natural resources.

Sammy Bauer, Community Education Coordinator for Chapel Hill’s Stormwater Management Division, sees our local creeks and waterways as daily reminders of how powerful water is as a resource and vital part of the environment. As hikers and paddlers, they enjoy sharing their fascination with and love of water, so managing the overall coordination of the 2024 Orange County Creek Week (March 16-23) is a delightful part of their job.

Bauer started the local Creek Week three years ago with Heather Holley, the Stormwater Specialist for Carrboro. This year, they added the Haw River Assembly to their organizing coalition, which comprises the three Orange County municipalities: OWASA, UNC, and the Eno River Association. They are hopeful about adding the two county school systems to their group of entities providing an array of activities in the future.

Creek Week aims to offer a varied menu of undertakings that can appeal to many interests and people of varied abilities. Attention has been paid to accessibility in terms of cost (most events are free), location (reachable by public transportation) and abilities (some requiring agility and others available to people and kids who have restricted mobility).

The Week will have activities to appeal to people with many varied interests. Just a quartet of examples from their long list of planned events illustrate the variety.

▪ Clean-Up-A-Thons will be held in different locations on March 16 along the Haw River and in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. These events will bring people together to clear away trash and raise awareness about how our consumption and trash disposal habits affect natural spaces. High school students who have been trained in the EPA’s trash inventory protocol will facilitate some of the activities. You never know what might be found – at one of the latest clean-ups, the participants were astonished to find not only cans, bottles, paper and other garbage, but also a large number of cabbages!

▪ In Hillsborough’s Gold Park on March 16, children and adults can participate in a stormwater-themed scavenger hunt (with a rain barrel for the winners), drive the on site stormwater camera , and check out a mini-excavator.

▪ On March 20, elementary school-aged kids can visit the Chapel Hill Public Library to decorate bookmarks with leaves (as stamps), paint and recycled materials. There will be picture books about waterways and nature to read. The StoryWalk book in Pritchard Park, Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, is the true story about restoring a creek to bring nature back to life. And when our creeks and surrounding natural areas are carefully tended, we might see some interesting plants and creatures, such as the Fowler’s toad and marbled salamanders below.

Fowler’s toad and marbled salamanders © Maria de Bruyn .jpg
Top left: marbled salamander with forelegs. Top right: Fowler’s toad. Bottom left: marbled salamander with eggs. Bottom right: marbled salamander with a snail for a meal. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

▪ On March 23, “Crochet by the Creek” will be an activity at the Umstead Park shelter, where participants can learn to crochet what they see using their own or donated materials.

Local businesses will also be supporting this year’s Creek Week. Two coffee shops plan to offer themed drinks to patrons and some shops will post flyers listing the activities. Other organizations are promoting Creek Week in their newsletters and publications.

Bauer hopes the successes of this year’s event will help inform future development of the yearly Creek Weeks. A survey will gather reactions and lessons learned and perhaps generate ideas for new activities. Some photos documenting this year’s Creek Week should be available on the Orange County website around the end of March.

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers for the Orange County Senior Center and for projects removing invasive vegetation and planting native plants. Her photos are posted on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bruynmariade/) and in blogs at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com.

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