Raleigh Nature

April 9, 2013

Raleigh Swamp Shifts with Sewer Project

sewer project meets Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The huge sewer project – seen above at Crabtree Boulevard looking toward the Mouth of Pigeon House Branch – has introduced a new geography to Raleigh Swamp, my name for the body of water off Raleigh Boulevard just north of its intersection with Crabtree Boulevard.  The large wooden causeway and gazebo were wonderful additions to the meeting of Buckeye trail and Middle Crabtree Trail.  Now the sewer project has dictated a large dam and concrete bridge section that bisects the “swamp.”  I know a real swamp is moving water with trees, but this lowland was dotted with dying trees for years after its establishment, and the snags of many remain as resting spots for herons, cormorants, and the occasional wood duck.  Canada geese and mallards breed here, while the turtle population has grown to a staggering level.  It is all thanks to the beavers.

Raleigh Swamp_1_1

When I first returned to Raleigh from Greensboro in 1980, they were starting to build the Raleigh Boulevard bridge over Crabtree Creek.  The caissons they used to sink the bridge piers were impressive, and Dulci, my black lab and I kept a close watch on the process.  At this time, the “Raleigh Swamp” area was a sometime wetland dotted with scrub trees and ribboned with the paths of homeless campers. Like many floodplains in the area, it got wet in the winter but stayed dry most summers.  The Boulevard project changed that, with a little help from the local beavers.  The transition was clarified for me by a city engineer years later through a comment on this blog in 2009.  I quote it in full below:

Was reading through your website after getting the link from the Fletcher Park Watergarden and noted that the “pond” off Raleigh Blvd was one of your favorite places. I thought I’d mention that this was actually a City of Raleigh mitigation project I designed many years ago to offset the environmental impacts from the construction of Raleigh Blvd. It was supposed to be a wetland but the beavers in the area had a different idea as they immediately blocked the culverts under the roadway causing the water to back up and form a permanent pond. Can’t say I object to the result of their efforts. It’s a beautiful spot and the addition of the greenway has made it accessible to the masses.

Mark Senior, PE, Senior Project Engineer, Water Quality Section, Stormwater Divsion of the City of Raleigh Public Works Department

The beavers have indeed made great use of the spot with several different lodges in different spots.  New generations of beavers tend to build their own lodge. Until I got the info from Mark, I assumed the construction of the road bed dammed up the water.  The water on the east side of Raleigh Boulevard acts more normally – rising and falling with rains and seasons.  I know the beavers play over there as well, because you can see their slides into Crabtree Creek as you walk down Buckeye toward Rollingwood.

Raleigh Swamp sewer dam_1_1

sewer pipe dam looking toward Crabtree_1_1

sewer dam bridge on causeway_1_1

Getting back to the sewer project, you can see above the large dam across the wetland.  This, along with the upgraded line in general, has changed the location and depth of water around the edges of the marsh (which is technically what it is).  Some areas are now totally dry – at least for now – and some are substantially deeper.  No real harm done, since nature and time effect these kinds of changes all the time anyway.  but the newly dry areas, which were beaver playgrounds until now, will undergo an interesting and specialized kind of succession – new plants adapted to the new conditions will take over.   It should be a fascinating transition and Raleigh Nature will keep an eye on it.  Below are shots of the stranded areas.

dry area behind sewer dam_1_1dry wetland near stairs of causeway_1_1new dry area at Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The beavers had a lodge at the very spot pictured below years ago but abandoned it during the drought of the early 2000s.  Perhaps they will rebuild now that the water situation is restored!

former beaver lodge water restored!_1_1

All posts on Raleigh Swamp

previous post on this sewer project

August 31, 2012

Buckeye’s Intermittent Closings Remind Us of Its Value

Buckeye Trail, which tracks Crabtree Creek through the largest natural area inside the beltline, runs 3 miles from due east of Raleigh at Milburnie and New Bern to Raleigh Boulevard in Northeast Raleigh. There it meets Raleigh Swamp, the neighborly name for the large shallow body of open water bisected by Raleigh Boulevard just north of Crabtree Boulevard.

But this section will be slightly iffy for the next 12 months as crews work on renovating the sewer lines that also track the creek, usually right next to the greenway. I was startled to see the sign, then realized the closings were going to be based on immediate project need, and that people were utilizing the trail as usual that very morning.  I thoughtfully and slowly biked the entire length, stopping to check on some late summer blooms and the condition of the Rocky Overhang, my sentimental favorite spot from childhood jaunts to Crabtree from Gatewood, my east Raleigh neighborhood.  Raleigh Nature has looked several times at this oldest leg of the Raleigh greenway, but a brief catalog of its wonders seems in order.

First, the old landfill meadow at the Milburnie entrance is apparently not going to get mowed anymore – there are trees of several years age filling up the back third.  The rest is filled with microstegium, stilt grass or bamboo grass: by any name, as nefarious an invasive species as kudzu ever was.  Perhaps the landfill monitoring period is over, perhaps they will bushwack these trees eventually.  Minus the stiltgrass, it was a rich meadow. Two pairs of comparison pictures below (click to enlarge).

                                    

Just past this meadow is a large stand of young beeches standing in a floodplain.  As you leave them and approach Crabtree, the sewer line cuts under the greenway on its way to Milburnie Road.  This is where the work is starting.  Necessary work, plus they are protecting the terrain by mulching with what they grind – at least for now. I actually like the new openings and hiking possibilities created by these cuts. Until the poison ivy gets established.

Sewer work at eastern end of Buckeye Trail

I can understand the need for the work.  Above is a section of sewer line inundated by winter floods, seen from the elevated greenway by the pump station at the dead end of Crabtree Boulevard.  This flooding is natural and used to happen with more regularity before the construction of flood controls upstream.

My first nature stop on the bike found me stumped.  I knew I had encountered the triangular, papery fruits and their name, but couldn’t put the two together.  A field guide finally revealed it as American Bladdernut.  Right beside it, pictured below, was a plant I did remember – nettle, whose thin hairy needles inject a stinging but mild toxin that can serve as relief from arthritis, a fact I learned from long-time NC Wildlife photographer Ted Dossett, who used to walk Buckeye almost daily.

Further upstream, the creek takes a big turn, away from Yonkers and toward Milburnie, creating The Point, a triangular beach looking across at the eastern edge of the Marsh Creek marsh.  This broad wetland stretches for about a mile below Yonkers Road and the Beltline. This is a great spot to see the larger birds.  Buckeye is “the birdiest greenway trail” according to the Wake birders’ guide.   As I headed upstream toward Rollingwood, I stopped at a very special place where a big beech uses a rock formation to hang right over the water.  Its roots create undercaves that we used for caching supplies back in grade school – toilet paper, BBs, and matches.  If we left anything long, it would wash away in high water.  The spot beside the beech is pictured below in very low water.

Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

I continued my ride, briefly surveying the Rocky Overhang, still draped by a large fallen Sycamore that came down across the creek after Floyd in 1999.  Fallen trees are a big part of changes in the creek bed, and the sycamores are notorious for taking up doomed positions on the creek bank.  Sometimes they lean precariously for years, and I will never forget the Buckeye walk when a really large, vine encrusted hickory decided to slowly but powerfully lay itself down into the creek as I walked past.  It was an amazing sound – non-violent but death-dealing forces of gravity and release.

Glimpse of the rocky overhang on Buckeye

Halfway up the trail is the park at the bottom of Rollingwood, where the greenway leaves the creekside and edges the neighborhood. The creek formerly split, creating an “island” which edged the greenway, but that streambed is dry now.  Shrubs and young trees cover the large sandy beach that existed at the head of this island in my childhood.  Unforgettable memories of camping on that beach (even then the water flow was seasonable), drawing a large square in the sand, and boxing with gloves!  It was my first and only experience with that.  The stalwart group of boys with whom I had ingratiated myself screamed and exhorted like we were Lords of the Flies.  We walked the creekside ( no greenway on those days) all the way up to Downtown (Capital) Boulevard to go get milkshakes late that night.  Fun times.

Now the creek goes straight past the former island, and the sand piles up just short of the former split.  Above is Sandy Beach, a favorite spot of my own children (though I never allowed them to camp there).  From here up to Raleigh Boulevard is a straight stretch that is close but not connected to my old gatewood neighborhood at the ends of King Charles and Marlborough.  Those streets took major damage from our April tornado disaster, and the damage shows from and includes the greenway.

                     

This stretch is now VERY sunny and the flowers will make use of that.  A selection is below.  Be sure to visit Buckeye soon!

Jerusalem Artichoke, which has an edible root

August 9, 2010

Marsh Creek Park – no relation to the creek!

My Google search hits revealed someone looking for Marsh Creek Park, and having featured the creek, I thought we should visit the recently expanded park on New Hope  Road.  The name of the park derives from Marsh Creek Road, which begins just across New Hope and goes straight down to Marsh Creek.  But New Hope Road is a ridge between the Crabtree and Neuse watersheds, and the waterways in the park itself- mostly out of sight without hiking – head north through a large woodlot visible from Southall Road toward the Neuse, just a mile distant.

All pictures click to enlarge

The hot new feature in the park is the skate park, which was featured in a several media articles and is quite popular.  The large recreational center is fairly nondescript, but was constructed with green principles, as described in detail (along with other park amenities) at Get To Know a Park.  Beside the center is a large Piedmont prairie, and the extensive parking areas are adjoined by interesting ecotone areas, though the stilt grass is spreading fast.  The terrain is typical of Piedmont farmland after 50-60 years – upland pines and chestnut oaks with a slope down to loblollies, shrubs, and water.

 

My favorite find at Marsh Creek Park was the rain garden just below the skate park, with a wonderful stand of Joe-Pye-weed, as seen below.  I’ve only seen this handsome plant in the mountains, but it is listed in the Piedmont.  Somebody did a great job with this rain garden.

 To make the park’s name issue a little stranger, there is a really nice marshy area below the lower field, which leads to a very pretty old farm pond. It appears to have a fishing shack on the edge.  The expansion doubled the usable space of the park, but most of the acreage is still heavily wooded and ripe for exploring.  Overall, a versatile park with something for everyone.

photo album of Marsh Creek Park

Google map of Marsh Creek Park

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This section of Raleigh – the ridge of New Hope with the valley of the Neuse to the northeast and Marsh Creek’s drainage to the southwest – is of geologic interest because it is one of the transitions between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.  If you take Buffalo Road off New Hope, for example, you immediately start seeing sandy soils.  Just down the road from Marsh Creek Park, Skycrest Drive heads down to good old Raleigh Swamp.  Before it gets there, at the intersection with Trawick, you can find this meadow of wildflowers.  It is being sorely threatened by kudzu vines.  We will keep a closer eye on invasive species in our future nature travels.

The kudzu is right behind the dandelions.

An impressive array of wildflowers fronts the dandelions by a slope.

These blackberry flowers are beside Skycrest. This was in May, but this summer I picked almost ten quarts of these things!  They are everywhere.

Kudzu making its way toward the wildflowers.

Kudzu go’ne eat us all!!

May 18, 2009

Grassy Branch Sees Daylight

Pigeon House culvert_1_1

Many waterways in Raleigh travel unseen, as does Pigeon House Branch above.  Recent years have seen efforts to rehabilitate – uncover and often “un-straighten” – creeks.  The process is called daylighting.  It helps with flood control and improves the ecosystem.  It happened in Northeast Raleigh last year, and it’s set to happen for Rocky Branch on the NCSU campus(pdf).  So Raleigh has recognized the process as valuable, but it is still an unusual occurrence.  For one Oakwood resident, stymied in efforts to have the city uncover his backyard branch, the benefits were worth the huge personal effort of unearthing the waterway himself by hand.

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Chris Crew is a longtime Oakwood resident who co-authored the wonderful Oakwood nature essay I recently featured.  He lives on Elm Street, almost at the bottom of Oakwood’s slope.  Grassy Branch is a small but steady flow that passes under Elm Street and edges his backyard. Until a couple of years ago, it passed unseen in a large buried pipe.

Chris's side yard_1_1

Chris learned of the city daylighting program and tried to get Grassy Branch uncovered.  During heavy rains, the water backed up and even spouted out vertically from broken places in the pipes.  The city couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work because other contiguous neighbors would not enlist their properties.  Tired of the geysers and wanting a healthier backyard creek, Chris decided to do the job himself.  So he and his family hand-dug and wenched out two sections of the 42 inch pipes.

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

I don’t have pictures of “the dig” – I just heard about Chris’ project recently.  But there is one more section he can remove before Grassy Branch crosses his property line.  I’m hoping he’ll invite me to help, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe

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Both Pigeon House and Rocky Branch involve daylighting projects that have or will be addressed in other posts.  An interesting neighborhood daylighting project finished up a couple of years ago near my school, the Fletcher Academy.  The picture below shows the view my students and I have on nature walks at the bottom of Cedar Hills Rotary Park. Three years ago we were looking at the creek disappear into a large pipe.

former pipe entrance for Big Branch_1_1

Today, the adjoining houses have less to fear from flooding, and the biological and geologic interactions missing from pipe existence have been restored to the creek.  One slightly bizarre feature of the project was the city’s purchase and destruction of a house on Mapleridge which sat practically on top of the creek.

site of former house at Big Branch

site of former house at Big Branch

  Big Branch daylighting project_1_1   Big Branch above Mapleridge_1_1   Big Branch re-exposed below Mapleridge_1_1

 

April 10, 2009

Marsh Creek Meanders

Filed under: Nature Lore, Northeast Raleigh, waterways — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:33 pm

   I had the most nature fun OFF the greenway in a long time, searching the headwaters of Marsh Creek.  This prototypical Piedmont creek – running due Southeast and carrying red clay hills down to sandy flats – ends up dumping its large steady flow of water into a huge wetland at the Yonkers Road section of the Beltline – thus its name.  This lower section is full of treats, and will constitute part two of this post.  Recently I browsed through North Raleigh sewer cuts and subdivisions, climbing up Marsh Creek as I did.  My destination – the headwaters – came as a surprise, and emphasized the fascinating cross section of Northeast Raleigh this creek travels through on its way to Crabtree.

upper-marsh-creek-on-google-map

upper reaches of Marsh Creek on Google Maps

   Marsh Creek actually starts just above the blue line showing the creek on this map – at Sutton Square of Falls of the Neuse, its twin springs cradling one of the busiest – and for pedestrians, one of the most dangerous – stretches of four lane in Raleigh. This major creek, which runs for just over five miles from Spring Forest to its intersection with Crabtree, begins on the west side of Falls of the Neuse as a tiny landscaped pond (next to Northbend), and on the east side as the  rocky ditch seen below.

The little brook picks up size quickly as it travels downhill through Northeast Raleigh neighborhoods – alternating older large-lot subdivisions with newer townhouse projects.  It reaches a large natural area just above Old Wake Forest Road, and that’s where I had such fun.  A wide sewer cut gave access to a scrubby but rich haven tucked between neighborhoods, and I was able to see the deer tracks seen at the top of the post, a deer bedroom of crushed broomstraw, cute little coon prints on a sandbank, and a glimpse of a solemn woodchuck, who quickly scrambled into his hole.

Above, a mossy bank just north of Old Wake Forest Road.  Below is the sewer cut, which travels through several acres of undeveloped lowland.

After crossing Atlantic Avenue, where I found another hillside natural area covered with large, iron-rich boulders, the creek parallels that thoroughfare southward for a couple of miles – once again, touching on large older homes and much denser new developments. Before crossing New Hope Church Road it accepts the run-off from Mini-City to the east, and then enters Brentwood.  Here, the creek is the centerpiece of a long, narrow neighborhood park that runs down the center of the venerable and “transitioning” Brentwood subdivision.  It accepts the water from a neighborhood pond on Huntleigh (doubtless called a lake by the residents), and dives under Capital Boulevard, where we will pick it up the next time we visit Marsh Creek.

upper stretch of Marsh Creek

upper stretch of Marsh Creek

Photo album of upper Marsh Creek

 

December 28, 2007

Raleigh Swamp – Great Nature AT the Beltline

    Raleigh Swamp is the local nickname for this expanse off Raleigh Boulevard. A massive boardwalk with gazebo connects Buckeye Trail with Capital Boulevard.  There are almost always blue herons and/or hawks, dozens of various turtle species, the occasional thirsty deer, and the best chance I know to actually see beavers during the day.  Raleigh Boulevard has become their permanent no-maintenence dam, but their two houses – one on the west bank near the railroad and one right beside the boardwalk – have been badly exposed by the drought.  We will return here often.

Raleigh Swamp Photo Tour

Google map of area linked below:

View Larger Map

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