Published: May 26, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 23, 2012 06:17 PM
Not in my daughter’s back yard
As of yesterday, my 10-year-old daughter will have completed her Girl Scout Bronze Award project. I’m proud of her because she’s worked hard at a project that is significant and meaningful to her – and that should be to others as well.When Jennifer started thinking as a Brownie about earning her Bronze Award, she thought she would want to help restore the habitats of brown pelicans hurt by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. This year as a Junior Girl Scout ready to start working on a project, she decided to do something closer to home. She wanted to work on the waterways in our neighborhood.She and a friend often already had worked at cleaning out these sometimes dry, sometimes trickling and sometimes racing streambeds. In their play, they would remove the trash they found as well as the natural debris – leaves and sticks that seemed to block the flow of water. Jennifer attended the symposium “Can We Heal Our Local Waterways?” organized earlier this year in Chapel Hill by Friends of Bolin Creek and the UNC Institute for the Environment. She talked with representatives from different groups, like the Eno River Association, to find out what she could do to help waterways. Then she gathered her friend and another girl together and asked Orange County Stormwater Resource Officer Terry Hackett to advise them.They knew they wanted to work on the streams in our neighborhood, and as they walked the area with Hackett they formed a plan that was a bit different than what they had first envisioned. More trash than I expected was in and along the streambed – torn Styrofoam plates; a large, plastic coffee grounds tub; plastic water bottles; a wooden door from a play set; bricks and other construction debris; plastic packaging; and cardstock of all sizes and colors. They would clean up the area as planned.But they would leave the natural debris alone. Hackett explained to them and the moms present that the streams were tributaries to Cates Creek, which eventually leads to the Eno River – our source of drinking water in Hillsborough. But these neighborhood streams were intended to slow the water and let the ground act as a natural filtration system to filter out pollutants before the water makes its way downstream to those larger waterways. The natural debris served as speed bumps. The girls, however, could clean out leaves and branches that plugged a plunge pool so it could resume slowing water that raced from a culvert.And they were right to be concerned about the erosion they saw on some parts of the stream banks. Hackett said the water rushed too quickly there and they could help by planting saplings to help hold the soil in place. The girls added that to their plan. And they also added removing the invasive Chinese privet that Hackett pointed out to them. The plant overtakes native species, leaving wildlife with less variety in their diets.With permission from the neighborhood homeowners association, the girls planned a neighborhood workday to clean the streams, plant saplings and remove Chinese privet. They created fliers advertising the day and brochures raising awareness about the waterways and how to help them. One tip they passed on to neighbors is to test their soil to see whether they even need to fertilize their lawns. Unnecessary fertilizer makes its way into our waterways, and the excess nutrients can create algal blooms that deprive waterways of oxygen and hurt animal and plant life. Dog waste that doesn’t get picked up does the same. The girls wanted to show Hackett places where they had seen algal blooms. They ended up showing him evidence that a chemical – maybe motor oil – had made its way into our streams.So, although I hope the girls’ workday was a big success, I hope even more that people come away with a lasting message that the waste they create and the products they use have implications beyond their own yards.
Catherine Wright lives in Hillsborough. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.