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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.