The Raleigh Naturalist

December 27, 2009

The Most Dangerous Species Grudgingly Groks Predators

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 9:40 pm

Wolf Face by Photos8

The wolf and bear are perfect bookends for a volume-sized summary of Ken Burns’ enormous film series about the national parks.  We came to this country and decimated the vibrant diverse native human population, mostly through disease, and then scoured the country for dangerous animals, paying bounties to cleanse the land of wicked ferocious predators.

When it came to the emerging national parks, it was no different.  Only until Alaska provided a landscape  huge and truly untamable did wildlife inside the parks begin to hold equal sway with the natural landscapes.  Many park officials recognized the vital role of wildlife all along, but wolves and bears were removed nonetheless.  Now we are slowly coming around to a national policy that recognizes the irreplacable contribution large predators make to an ecosystem.

The wolf –  free, wild and dangerous – is portrayed as the symbolic epitome of our estrangment with nature in the final segment of Ken Burn’s film on the national parks.  Wallace Stegner’s ideas frame the parks as a survival necessity – not just  for “the trumpeter swan and bison… but us.”  Stegner knew we needed “sanctuary from a world paved over with concrete by the raw engineering power of the 20th century.”  The ultimate sanctuary, in park terms, was Alaska, where park superintendent Adolf Murie championed the wolf as the crowning jewel of “a glimpse of the primeval.”  From Alaska came the research and experiences that brought about re-introduction of large predators into the continental U.S. parks.

Murie wrote a pro-coyote report concerning Yellowstone that almost got him fired – and did get him packed off to Alaska, where he helped establish the greatest U.S. nature preserves of all. In 1867 “Seward’s Folly” was derided as too remote to be valuable.   111 years later, Morris Udall and Jimmy Carter culminated Alaska preservation by signing off on 17 national monuments comprising 56 million acres (in Alaska communities, all hell broke loose about the feds stealing the state). The Alaska Coalition that facilitated the legislation represented the largest grassroots conservation effort in history.

Denali National Park in Alaska

The final segment of National Parks: America’s Best Idea folded an eclectic concoction of historical and policy facts around Alaska and our large mammals.  The crucial theme of preservation balanced against use is applied to various projects as well as the pure numbers.  By 1950, National Park visitors reached 32 million in number: by just the mid-50’s that number hit 62 million – 98% by car. These numbers would have crushed any system, eventually even Alaska, but for the strong atmosphere and policies created by National Park Service professionals, developing park policies based on scientific research from the emerging academic discipline of ecology. Aside from limiting roads and managing tourist hordes, one of the toughest policies to implement was the simple directive:  Don’t feed the bears!  Though wolves were extirpated from Yellowstone, the “cute” black bears were fed and habituated to tourists for years.  We can minimize our contact and effect, but we can’t really avoid interactions with wildlife, and interactions with dangerous predators require intense management.  The thorny problems inferent in the situation are not least of why Dayton Duncan emphasizes that “each generation must re-protect these lands.”

Burns and Duncan are stalwart in offering breathtaking proof of the value of such work.  They also did yeoman’s work in coverage of the National Park Service’s vast mission, which now includes hundreds of National Monuments and National Historic Sites.  This final segment also continued the thread of appealing human interest stories, from fish guiding Biscayne Bay to home movies of Echo Park.  But I was ready for the end, which came beautifully with the 1995 release of wolves into Yellowstone.  The elk are all the better off for it, and the creekside willows they eat are again thriving.  We can get it right sometimes in this great country, and the national parks are a great example.

All Raleigh Nature posts on the Ken Burns film

PBS website for National Parks: America’s Best Idea

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Wildlife in Raleigh is regaining some small aspects of full-fledged wilderness with top-of-the-chain predators.  “Black bears are here to stay,”.  a NandO story just proclaimed.  “Coyote Pyrotechnics at RDU airport” was the title of the WRAL story relating that 2 regional jets carrying about 50 passengers each struck coyotes in a recent week.  Raleigh Eco News has thoroughly documented the establishment of coyotes in the Triangle.  Can we co-exist with coyotes? Probably so, because they are quite discreet. Can we, through the 21st century, co-exist with wolves, mountain lions, and bears of all kinds?  It remains to be seen.

coyote

The Daily Coyote

is an amazing record of human co-existence with a very personable “domesticated” coyote.  Very thought-provoking!

October 4, 2009

Walnut Creek Wetland Center opening

Walnut Creek Wetland Center_1_1

Numerous city and parks officials joined a large crowd of citizens for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of  The Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Dr. Norman Camp listened to Mayor Charles Meeker, city councilman James West and park officials speak about the new center.  Then the founder of Partners for Environmental Justice , and the man who sheperded this project into being, got up and spoke of the center as a shining new gem in Raleigh’s crown,” as quoted on Raleigh Eco News.

Walnut Creek crowd_1_1

The crowd listened attentively as the benefits for Southeast Raleigh as well as the ecosystem were described and the many supporters and participants were thanked.  Then they were rewarded with a magnificent poem written for the occasion, by Christopher Rowland, a Southeast Raleigh native who wows the crowds at Artspace’s Stammer under the name Langston Fuze.

Chris Rollins reads_1_1

Click here for a 1 minute video clip of the poem 

for the full text of the poem, see the post at

Raleigh Eco News

wetland musicians_1_1

Musicians entertained on the “longest back porch in the Southeast,” and Erin Sterling, architect of record for the project from Frank Harmon Architecture, explained the details of the green design.  The building is 230 feet long and narrow so that all rooms get light from two sides and often three.  It is sloped up to the north and shelters its southern exposure with the long low porch roof.  Raleigh’s final budget did not allow for the planned rainwater cisterns, but they can come later and the gutters now direct into bioretention areas – long rain gardens that surround the space.  The building is on stilts and allows natural water flow under it – important in this floodplain.  Recycled lumber and building materials were used when possible, and native plantings surround the site.

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

On the other hand, several of us gazed from the wonderful porch at a huge stand of Microstegia (bamboo or stilt grass) just at the edge of the construction clearing and bemoaned a bit the vast future work entailed in continued future protection of this site and may others in Raleigh.  The educational center will raise awareness of those issues, and provide a much needed amenity and attraction in this part of Raleigh.

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

The longest porch in the Southeast

The longest porch in the Southeast

Walnut Creek  sign_1_1

September 28, 2009

Walnut Creek Center opens Tuesday

Filed under: green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Southeast Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 1:20 am
Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut greenway entrance_1_1

Sue Sturgis at Raleigh Eco News has an excellent post about the new Walnut Creek Wetland Center, which has a grand opening at 5:30 this Tuesday, Sept. 29th.  Raleigh Nature featured the center back in February, describing Frank Harmon’s green design, which Sue explains in detail.

Walnut Creek wetland_1_1

 This stretch of greenway presents some interesting wetland areas, but the largest has suffered from lack of water for the last few years.  I haven’t seen the scene above that wet for a long time – the spot is at the edge of the marsh just below Women’s Prison.  Below is a typical stretch of the creek, which continues to be sand-washed and silt laden.  The new  center is just the focal point of multiple efforts to improve the watershed.

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Info from the center’s website:

Walnut Creek Wetland Center

950 Peterson Street Raleigh, NC 27610

You are invited to come enjoy the center at your leisure, explore our educational displays, wander the greenway trails, relax in a rocking chair on the expansive deck overlooking the floodplain, or ask our knowledgable center staff any questions you may have about the wetlands and wildlife you encounter.

Visitors who want to explore the wetlands more can register for low cost instructional programs. Fun activities for all ages will be offered year-round encouraging the sense of wonder all people feel in their favorite woods, park or local greenspace. Using the variety of natural habitats surrounding the state of the art Wetland Center, park staff will guide visitors in programs that engage students on both a scientific and experiential level. Wetland activities will begin inside the comfort of the center, or on the spacious deck, where visitors will be introduced to the concept of wetlands. The real fun begins when classes take the next step and venture into the wetland to experience nature with their own hands.

Hours of Operation
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – Sunset
Sunday 1:00pm – Sunset
Admission: Free

You are invited
Walnut Creek Wetland Center’s Dedication & Open House
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
5:30-7:30pm
Ribbon-cutting begins at 5:30 pm.
Tours and program demonstrations will follow.

Walnut Creek Wetland Center offers a wilderness experience without leaving the Capital City. Located on 59 acres of undeveloped floodplain near downtown, this new City of Raleigh facility will be the first of its kind.

Sunset at Old Garner Road

Sunset at Old Garner Road

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Raleigh Eco News also posted some important info recently:

Keep those pizza boxes out of Raleigh’s recycling bins

An important reminder from the City of Raleigh:

So you’ve been putting yogurt cups, pizza boxes, and ceramic cups in your recycling bin. Guess what? The City of Raleigh cannot recycle these products.

The top three containers that residents are putting into their recycling bins which the City cannot recycle are:

* Non-bottle shaped plastic items, such as yogurt cups, bags, utensils, and margarine tubs. The City also is urging residents not to put acceptable items into plastic bags when their recycling bin is full. Instead use a box or other container;

* Pizza boxes; and,

* Non-food glass products such as ceramic cups, vases, dishes, plate glass, mirrors and light bulbs.

This is a great reminder, on a local and general level.  If we really want to change our habits relative to recyclable materials, we have to be a bit saavy about consistent appropriate use of the system.  Just as we can’t take disposal and landfill space for granted, we have to understand the basic processes of recycling and help the process work efficiently and cost-effectively.  Great work and thanks, Sue!

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Walnut greenway sign_1_1

Walnut Creek greenway sign

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

 

February 22, 2009

News, Notes, and Promises

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

 Walnut Creek Wetland Park is approximately 59 acres in size and is located between Garner Road and South State Street and south of Peterson Street in Southeast Raleigh. This site contains extensive wetlands that are located near the downtown urban center and offer an opportunity for the public to easily explore and learn about the value and significance of wetlands for water quality and wildlife habitat.     Raleigh City website

      Construction has begun on  the  Walnut Creek Wetland Center, as reported in NandO on February 11.   The center is the culmination of efforts led by Norman Camp to rehabilitate and protect the wetlands of Raleigh’s Southeast.   This topo map shows the area. The new building, shown below, was designed by Frank Harmon, and will stand six feet above the ground and have a minimal ecological footprint.  An earlier post describes some amenities of this section of greenway.

                         walnut-center-side_1_1                         walnut-wetlands-center-front_1_1

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henbit-on-hodge-rd_1_1

    The groundhog definitely saw his shadow, but early signs of spring abound in Raleigh.  Above is henbit between Hodge Road and Crabtree.  Below are red maples blossoms in Oakwood.  There is some cold air coming, so there will be some casualties – though our well-mulched garden parsley and “spinach under glass” on the deck are doing great!

winter-maple-buds_1_1

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     One of the exciting things about Raleigh Nature is the wonderful reader input, and I need to follow up and post about more of it.  There’s always a tension between getting around to it and doing it justice.  Here are a few smoldering issues on my draft posts:

First and most behind: responding to the multiple inputs about Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history.  From David’s great pics of the upper water, to the amazing Lassiter mill drive wheel images sent by Jimmy, and the history and memories in the comments, we need to return to this subject soon!  I recently got a fascinating inquiry from Carol about the infilled Lake Boone, and the natural springs that fed it, and I want badly to follow that up.  I very much appreciated the mistletoe tips from Meredith, and dream of my “pecans and mistletoe” map of Raleigh!  Scott, a well-known author, my old friend Joe, and Tommy, a songwriter from my past, all greatly helped my still-unfinished exploration of the Pigeon House Branch system and the expensive new Fletcher Water Park that feeds into it.  We’ve been blessed with an explanation of Raleigh Swamp’s waters by Mark, who engineered it, and we’ve been sobered by the plea for resolution from Deborah concerning Ward Transformer’s lifetime of ecological crimes against our area.    I look forward to sharing Patti’s wonderful hawk story, and keeping Michiel in the Netherlands all caught up on Raleigh’s natural scene.  Mentioning these highlights, many thanks to all who have written or commented.  It really helps the work!

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Oakwood maple

Oakwood maple

     Chris Crew and Matthew Brown just wrote a wonderful article about Oakwood wildlife for our neighborhood newsletter.They are neighbors at the bottom of the slope at whose crest I reside. Between my house and theirs almost every inch is controlled by humans, and the water flowing downhill is piped or culverted.  Below their house, toward Brookside and Glascock, the land opens up just a bit and has some natural edges. As a matter of fact, Chris is uncovering  the section of Grassy Branch in his backyard, and that’s another topic on my to-do list.  Just across the road, though, is Oakwood Cemetery, a significant oasis for many living things.  According to their article, our neighborhood boasts a huge variety of species. Among many bird species they describe, the cedar waxwing invasion for berries and the long-standing nest of red-tail hawks stood out.  Foxes, possums, and a substantial population of raccoons are described.  There are excellent nature lore tips regarding the colors of 5-lined skinks and owl sounds.  I wish the newsletter were online, but if you have a friend that’s a resident, check it out.  Way to go, Matthew and Chris!

PS:  Hope ya’ll like the revised sidebar.

PPS: Matthew very kindly posted the article referred to above HERE.

February 6, 2009

Pigeon House Branch Part 2

heron-on-rock-outcrop_1_1

     In our previous post, we began with the hidden headwaters of Pigeon House under Cameron Village, and followed it through the the Park Avenue  neighborhood and down West Johnson Street to Peace Street, with a reach-out to Capital at Wake Forest, where the heron above (remember all pictures should click to enlarge) found a rocky spot of wilderness.  This post backs up to Devereux Meadows and follows Pigeon House Branch down to its intersection with Crabtree Creek. An unhappy course, for the most part. The city is trying to rehabilitate it, one tributary at a time. Below is the map of their plan.

pigeon-house-plan-map_1_1

     Pigeon House Branch drains the northwestern quadrant of downtown, gathering water east of the Oberlin Road ridge, bringing it through a series of open stone culverts through the Park Drive neighborhood.  At St. Mary’s Street it enters the Glenwood South business district and is piped under the roads and railroads tracks and down to Devereux Meadows.   The dark blue line is where they want to uncover the creek, and the brown area is where the city wants to create a “Riverwalk”  at Devereux Meadows.  Below we see the creek as it begins its path through this area.

     Pigeon House Branch is under there somewhere!  The creek escapes out a large pipe and continues down between West Street and Capital Boulevard.  About here is where the 42 inch pipe pictured below delivers all the water collected from Fletcher Park and its $700,000 water park!

     Pigeon House crosses back and forth across Capital Boulevard, traveling through wide manmade ditches covered with kudzu.  The water passes over the heron’s rock outcrop and turns northeast.  It dives under Capital yet again and emerges at Watkin’s Grill, a venerable blue-collar breakfast joint at Old Louisburg Road and Atlantic Ave.  Traveling between the north and southbound lanes of Capital, it accepts the water from off the Blount St. ridge (Mordecai to Oakwood), and makes its way through successive parking lots, including Johnny’s Motel, Dunkin’ Donuts, The Foxy Lady and the bowling alley for over a mile, before turning east at Crabtree Boulevard.  Here Pigeon House lends its seepage to a small marsh between it and Crabtree Creek.  It feeds into Crabtree at Raleigh Boulevard, its mouth visible from its bridge over Crabtree as well as the nearby greenway deck.

Pigeon House Branch enters Crabtree Creek

     Pigeon House is decidedly urban and yet makes its way through former waste lowlands turned into thoroughfares, so its riparian buffer is actually less stressed for space than many other creeks in Raleigh.  Thus the heron, thus the opportunity for a high-end greenway at the site where I watched many a minor league baseball game.  Much hope can be found for success with the city’s project to rehabilitate Pigeon House Branch.

pdf. Pigeon House Plan

Pigeon House Part 2 photo album

This is a thorough sequence from Devereux Meadows to Crabtree Creek.

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