Local groups collaborate to reclaim a creek that had nearly lost all its native species
By Molly English-Bowers
The pollutant in that deicer is ethylene glycol, the same ingredient in antifreeze. In July 1993, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a permit to the city to study the chemicals that run off of airport property, including into the creek. With a deadline of November 1996, the city was ordered to construct a $10 million treatment facility to abate that runoff. The result: a gradual but steady improvement in the condition of the Bear Trap Creek waters.
Since 1994, members of the Walton League, as well as students at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse University, Liverpool High School and Roxboro Road Middle School, whose grounds abut the creek, have monitored that water quality. Five summers ago, Roxboro life sciences teacher Gary Lipp received a $2,600 mini-grant from the Onondaga Lake Partnership to further study of the creek. It’s his and his students’ work and that of Monostory and company that brought everyone creekside on Oct. 5.
“We are out here in spring, summer and early fall,” Lipp says, “until November, when the water gets too cold.” During each visit—no more than three times each school year—Lipp and his students perform two of the three surveys of the stream, biological and physical, while Monostory takes various measurements chemically using a kit stored in the back of his SUV.
“Until the 1970s, this was a trout stream,” Monostory explains. “We’re trying to reintroduce the trout, and we received a two-year, $120,000 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”
Highway noise from nearby Interstate 81 a constant backdrop, the boys—Gunnar Hokanson, Michael Walker and Jacob Trease—along with Lipp and interested neighbor Katherine Bohn, one of Lipp’s former students, and his current student teacher Jeremy Fuller, who attends SU, drape a net on a large whiteboard to count the critters they retrieved from three spots on the creekbed. Lipp carries a chart on a clipboard, on which he keeps track of how many certain species are gathered at each visit. The first scoop brings up a crayfish and not much else.
“The crayfish have returned,” Lipp notes.
“They weren’t here 20 years ago.” When asked if, absent any fish, the crayfish sits atop the creek’s food chain, he responds, “Crayfish is a so-so indicator of stream health.”
The second sample yielded a dragonfly nymph—that bug’s odd-looking larval stage—as well as caddis fly larvae, scud and, to the boys’ delight, a minnow, which Monostory identified as a tessellated darter, found in several other tributaries of Onondaga Lake. While a few other fish species have been found in the creek recently, the water quality still has a long way to go.
As part of that effort, Monostory has spearheaded volunteer drives to mitigate the silt that has collected at the bottom of the stream—castoff from the nearby six-lane highway. Silt isn’t good for fish because it stifles oxygen creation. Part of the Izaak Walton League’s efforts include placing stone cobbles at the bottom of the creek along with diversionary structures, especially logs, to try to deepen the creek at various points.
“We also want to speed up the flow of the water to try to get more oxygen into the water,” he says. “That should attract additional food for the trout.” The trees that form a natural buffer between creek and highway help matters as well. “The stream has pretty good shade,” Monostory adds. “The trees keep the water temperature below 75 degrees, which is what the trout need to survive.”
As it has the last two decades, Project Watershed surveys will continue to monitor the health of Bear Trap Creek in the hope that trout can once again thrive there.
To get involved with the Bear Trap Creek restoration project, contact Les Monostory at email@example.com or by phone at 264-2656. For an overview on the entire effort, visit projectwatershed.org.