Thursday, April 20, 2006

Appreciating the Boneyard Creek

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Boneyard Creek Community Day information

City of Champaign Boneyard 2nd Street Project Summary

Boneyard 2nd Street Project Survey

I guess most people who live or work in Champaign-Urbana go through most days without thinking about the Boneyard Creek. That’s not true for me; I’m crazy about streams, and during the week the Boneyard is the only one I have access to. On my way to campus I bicycle beside it where it parallels Second Street between Clark and Springfield, and then follow it through Scott Park. Occasionally at lunchtime, I walk over to where it flows through the U of I’s Engineering campus. There I and many others enjoy the open space along the creek. Sometimes I even bring a fly rod along and fish there.

When you stop and pay attention to it, you see that, small and disrespected as it is, the Boneyard is a magnet for urban wildlife. At this time of year, the trees along Second Street and in Scott Park attract great numbers of migrating songbirds. The creek itself provides a stopover for mallards, and the occasional wood duck. A belted kingfisher cruises the creek’s corridor, as do northern rough-winged swallows. In the rejuvenated portion of the Boneyard on campus I’ve seen bullfrogs and even a snapping turtle.

And get this. In 2004 a student who sampled fish on campus and in Urbana to assess the biotic integrity of the Boneyard found twenty-two species of fish. That’s well below the numbers of species found in our area’s more pristine streams—say the Middle Fork and Lower reaches of the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River—but much better than many people would expect.

If you aren't used to thinking of the Boneyard Creek as a natural asset in the urban landscape of Champaign-Urbana, I’d encourage you to take a new look at it. Especially now. You see, the City of Champaign is currently working on the design for Phase II of the flood control project it began in the 1990s. In Phase I of that effort, the Boneyard was treated strictly as a nuisance, and buried in a pipe for three blocks.

It seems likely that the creek will be treated with more respect in the current phase, known as the Second Street Detention Project. But it’s important that people who value the potential of an open waterway in the city make their voices heard on this issue.

The current project proposes two detention basins along Second Street between Springfield and University Avenues, and the work done there will tie in with modifications to Scott Park. Among the alternatives now being developed, the best allow for a somewhat naturalized creek corridor. They leave the normal flow channel of the stream above ground, and they include some areas landscaped with native plants. They also incorporate a gradual slope leading to the creek from one side, so that people can approach it.

If you are interested in how the Boneyard Creek is treated in the Second Street Detention Project, the City of Champaign is interested in hearing from you. You can fill out a survey to indicate what you would value in the project design online at the City’s website, or receive a mail-in survey to complete by calling the Public Works Division.

Beyond that, you can come out and get acquainted with Champaign-Urbana’s hometown stream at the Boneyard Creek Community Day taking place this Saturday, April 22nd. Sponsored by numerous entities, including the cities of Champaign and Urbana, their respective park districts and the U of I, with organizational help from Prairie Rivers Network, this event will include a stream clean-up, storm drain stenciling, food, entertainment, and even free t-shirts for the first 350 participants. Registration for volunteers takes place in Scott Park and begins at 9:00 a.m. Entertainment and other activities are scheduled from noon to 4:00 p.m.

The Boneyard Creek really is a natural asset for our community, and we have much to gain by treating it well.