“Can We Heal Our Local Waterways?”

A watershed event!

Participate in a Symposium and Community Exchange, “Can We Heal Our Local Waterways?” from 9 – 1:00 pm on February 11th, 2012 at the UNC Botanical Garden. Join us to hear about the current water quality problems and actions needed to restore our urban streams. We are including case studies from Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The event will be held in the Assembly Room of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Mary Sonis, a well-known amateur photographer and wildlife naturalist, takes us on a “Wildlife Along Bolin Creek – A Virtual Walk” at 11:30 am. Mary’s virtual wildlife tour will begin at 11:30 am.  Her close up action shots of animals provide a breathtaking look at the natural world in the midst of our urban communities.

After the Symposium, 12 – 1 pm, attend or participate in the Healthy Waterways Exchange to connect with others interested in making a difference for water quality and the environment. Over 20 organization will join us.  Here are the facts and the agenda for the Symposium and the Community Exchange. Register here .

This event is organized by the Friends of Bolin Creek and the UNC Institute for the Environment, and co-sponsored by the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.

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Fall wildlife along Bolin Creek by Mary Sonis

This week I have been surprised with the animals that just allow you to walk right up to them. The rut is about over, but this young buck doesn’t seem to realize that he is supposed to be skittish.  Of course this is not “Big Daddy”..but I was still rather amused by his boldness. It just makes my job easier.
And here we have the Virginia Opossum. People are never very excited about Opossum ..but they are fascinating creatures. This particular female has discovered our birdfeeder. She visits nightly to collect the spilled bird seed,  and is very relaxed about our presence on the scene. Quite the wide mouthed yawn. If you disturb or corner an Opossum,  they stand with their mouth agape and show you their fifty teeth. They never attack, unless you actually try to pick them up..and even then , they are likely to collapse and simply “play possum”  The playing possum might be involuntary…a neurological response to stress…but it serves the possum fairly well.   Often a dog will give up on prey that appears to be dead. The opossum adds to the act by releasing a slightly foul smelling musk from its anal glands. These peaceful creatures are North America’s only Marsupial.  The female opossum has a placenta that is not well developed. Her multiple young are born after about a fourteen day gestation. Each little opossum is about the size of a raisin,  and is still in an embryonic state. The mother licks her abdomen to slick the fur,  and each tiny Opossum must crawl to her pouch (marsupium) and latch on to one of her 13 teats. Some of them never complete the crawl.  For the next 2 months ,  the youngsters stay in the pouch.  Eventually they climb out and ride around on their mother’s back.
Opossums are not fast, their hearing isn’t acute, and their vision is ordinary. They are however,  superb climbers. The tail is not truly prehensile. It is not strong enough to hold up an adult animal, but it is used as an extra limb … or brace while climbing.
Like us, Opossums are true omnivores,  and will eat almost anything .  Much of their diet is scavenged. They will eat carrion , and anything else that they happen to find. Sadly, many die on roads eating roadkill.  The habit of standing still when confronted is  one of the main reasons that they perish on the road.

Did I mention that Opossums don’t have a lot of sense? They toddle through life taking little notice of the possible dangers around them. Dogs kill Opossums easily. They also fall prey to Owls, Fox,  and Coyotes. Fortunately… we are a friendly group around here!  Here’s something else that serves the Opossum well. The are naturally resistant to snake venom,  and rarely carry rabies. Their body temperature is too low for the rabies virus to thrive.
Finally, take a look at that hind foot. She has an opposable digit on her paw. Great for climbing trees. That thumb- like digit never has a toenail. The life expectancy of a wild Opossum is estimated to be two or three years. Poor little creature just gets tangled up with too many cars and predators.
When I first saw this on a tree trunk in the distance..I thought it was some kind of odd tree fungus…
But look at that..an Eastern Red Bat. The Red bat was doing exactly what they do during the day,  resting on a tree. This is our most common forest bat in North America. They usually rest hanging higher up in trees..and look like leaves dangling. This one chose to roost lower on the tree trunk.  She did not fly off when I approached, so I had plenty of time to observe her. After I left, she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

So long from the Bolin Creek forest.


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The Best Choice for Bolin Creek

November 3, 2011 | Posted in: Opinion | Carrboro Citizen
John N. Morris

♦ Well, it’s enough to restore your faith in reasoned discussion and democracy! After a healthy debate for more than a year about whether the OWASA easement along Bolin Creek in Carrboro should be a paved greenway, the best choice is emerging. When the town board received a consultant report on proposed greenways, the board adopted some of the recommended routes, but did not approve the route along the creek, directing that a range of alternatives should be studied. The Carrboro Greenways Commission, with leadership by Mayor Mark Chilton and Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Randee Haven-O’Donnell (both members of the commission), decided to set aside consideration of the route along the creek. For one thing, any funding for such projects is years away. More importantly, the commission saw the need to take into account all of the planning underway for Carolina North and for other bike routes in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, to make sure that new projects are best located to be part of a useful transportation network. The following considerations influenced these decisions.
♦ Effective transportation: Carrboro wants to encourage bike use as much as possible to reduce gas consumption and improve air quality, but a paved route along the creek just isn’t a good bike route. What’s needed is a north-south route to connect Chapel Hill and the UNC campus with Carolina North, also providing access from neighborhoods to schools along Seawell School Road. The university, in the Carolina North development agreement, has already made a farsighted commitment to build a safe bike route along Seawell School Road, which will link with the planned campus-to-campus connector. The university is now constructing an east-west gravel bikeable trail across Bolin Forest from Tripp Farm Road to Seawell School Road, complete with a bridge across the creek. These routes are complemented by Carrboro’s plan to build a greenway connecting the neighborhoods north of Homestead Road with the three schools. These bike routes provide an excellent network and make a route along the creek unneeded.
♦ Environmental damage: Paving a greenway along the OWASA easement would damage water quality. A 10-foot-wide paved greenway can’t be delicately placed like unrolling a rug. We can see what a paved greenway would look like at the Morgan Creek Greenway, now completed in Chapel Hill. Despite admirable efforts to limit the impact, the cleared and graded strip is, at a minimum, 25 feet wide, often much wider where drainage requires culverts and hardened ditches. Putting a paved greenway on the Bolin Creek sewer easement, which is largely within 30 feet of the creek, would tear up tree roots and remove trees that are holding the creek banks in place and providing shade for the stream. A state Division of Water Quality publication explains in detail why greenways should be kept out of the riparian buffer to protect water quality.
What some paving advocates are missing is that the paved greenways that we are familiar with along Bolin Creek, Booker Creek and Morgan Creek in Chapel Hill are built away from the creeks, leaving a wide, protective buffer in all but a few spots. There is no precedent in Orange County for building a greenway right on the creek bank, where the OWASA Bolin Creek easement is located.
♦ A big bill: We now have some real numbers to use to estimate the cost of paving along Bolin Creek, based on the Morgan Creek greenway, which was recently constructed. Using the per-foot cost for Morgan Creek, the greenway along Bolin Creek (referred to as segments 3 and 4) would cost about $4 million. The cost would surely be higher, because the terrain is steeper at Bolin Creek and construction access is much more difficult. Carrboro would also be taking on a big ongoing maintenance cost. In these times of tight budgets, available federal, state and local transit funds should be reserved for urgent needs.
♦ The small group that promotes a paved trail along Bolin Creek describes the area as “degraded” and presents paving as a way to “restore” it. This is a myth that just does not fit the facts. I have walked the trail after heavy rains and observed that the OWASA easement is only a very minor and localized source of sediment to the creek. There are simple and inexpensive solutions to these small problem areas. The thorough studies of Bolin Creek by the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program and the N.C. Division of Water Quality make clear that the significant threat to Bolin Creek is from land development and stormwater runoff from the developed and developing parts of the whole watershed, not from the forested area and not from the OWASA easement. The trail along the creek is a beautiful place where many enjoy the wildflowers, magnificent trees and birds. More than 1,100 persons have signed a petition opposing the paving.
♦ Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. Thanks to the leadership of the university and Carrboro, we can have safe bike routes that connect to the schools, neighborhoods and Carolina North. Bolin Creek can be spared pavement and be appreciated for the natural values that make it so popular. And the residents of Carrboro can save their tax dollars for something that’s really needed.
John N. Morris was director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources from 1980 to 2008, an agency responsible for water-supply and river-basin planning and for water-use regulation.

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Candidates take positions on Bolin Creek paving

Four candidates are competing for three seats of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on election day, Tuesday, November 8. This is second in a series of reports on interviews conducted by Friends of Bolin Creek with the Carrboro candidates.

Question: Recently, there has been much concern over how to protect the creek and forest of the upper Bolin Creek watershed, part of which is within the Carolina North tract. Do you favor preserving the Craig tract that adjoins the Adams Tract? Do you favor paving along the Upper Bolin Creek under any circumstances?  

Dan Coleman noted the Greenways consultant recommended paving but says he does not plan to make a decision yet as “things change over time”.  At  present he had no opinion on paving Upper Bolin Creek south of Homestead.  “It’s too soon”, he said, “for the Town to make that decision”. He thinks the Craig tract is too expensive to buy and does not see future funding for open space acquisition. He says he is concerned about the health of the creek and its ecology.

 Braxton Foushee said, “I’m not in favor of paving along creek.  I would not approve of it. He said the Seawell School Road route is already planned.  “My number one issue is to protect the creek down there… If I had to make a decision based on that I’d have to put the environment first. We can deal with transit. But the environment you’re into 50 years (sic. to repair it).” He would like to see the P.H. Craig tract preserved through conservation easements.

Michelle Johnson says preserving green space is important and she is in favor of preserving the Craig tract.  She favors biking trails but wants to protect the creek; she would probably vote against paving next to Bolin Creek.

Lydia Lavelle highest priority is to provide improved transit. “My vision for future trails would be a mix of surfaces.  Right now I favor paving next to the creek.”  However, she says she has an open mind and is always willing to talk to people about future decisions.

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Interviews with Carrboro Candidates

Friends of Bolin Creek interviewed the candidates for Carrboro Board of Aldermen in early October. All candidates participated except for the Mayor. This is the first of three reports on candidates’ views. The entire report can be found  here.

What will be your top three priorities if elected to office in Carrboro? Why? What action(s) will you take to achieve each of these priorities upon taking office?
Candidate Dan Coleman:

  • Hire best town manager: One with Carrboro values.
  • Meet financial challenges: There’s been three years with no tax increases or layoffs, but it’s more and more challenging.
  • Carrboro’s local economy: Town’s economic viability is rooted in local businesses. Carrboro Music Festival, for example, supported by many local businesses. Planning principles articulated by the Board of Aldermen (BOA) will serve to protect the community. Carrboro is trying to create a distinct culture: cookie cutter development won’t work here. We really listen to neighbors.

Candidate Braxton Foushee:

  • Services for Rogers Road: Need to compensate residents for years of living with the landfill. Carrboro is going to have to pay the tipping fee, and the monies will go to the community out there. All we can do is keep working with Orange County. It’s a debt that we have to pay. We can make it affordable by offering the residents a loan for water-and- sewer hook-up. With their water bill, residents pay a monthly fee until it’s paid off.
  • Work-force housing: Need housing for teachers, firefighters and police who work here.
  • Jobs : Work to attract clean industry, employers who can provide 50 to 70 jobs each. Downtown is our urban center. Shelton project is not a good fit. Keep downtown vibrant. Parking is the biggest problem. Town doesn’t own any parking lots, but rents them.”

Candidate Michelle Johnson:

  • Growth: Supports mixed-use development, as well as green, sustainable development where citizens can walk and bike. Density centered in the urban core. Concerned about the proposed developments on Lloyd Street and also along Greensboro at 500 Shelton Place, how these will affect the surrounding area. Will these developments increase walking, or just increase traffic?
  • Diversifying tax base: Need to help local businesses sustain themselves, including increasing the revolving loan fund, developing crisis funds for businesses, and continuing the Energy WISE program.
  • Affordable housing: People should be able to live where they work. Expressed support for town development of affordable housing, rather than just payments by developers to the affordable-housing trust.
  • Diversity: Seeks to encourage diverse citizen participation. Not certain at present that Town boards and Town staff are receiving input from a representative sample of Carrboro citizens.
  • Day-laborer issues: Would vote to rescind the anti-loitering ordinance

Candidate Lydia Lavelle:

  • Improved transportation is key to growing infrastructure
  • More downtown development: Desires more commercial development close to town center.
  • Work with regional partners: Is currently head of Durham Chapel Hill MPO which disburses transportation funds, and sits on the UNC Visitors’ Bureau.
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Treasures of Bolin Creek

Join us for the Friends of Bolin Creek’s fall walk, “Treasures of Bolin Creek”, tSunday October 23rd at 2 pm, led by Randee Haven O’Donnell and Salli Benedict . Randee is an environmental educator, a runner, a long time supporter of the conservation of Bolin Creek and its habitat, and is serving a second term on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Salli is a retired project Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a long time lover of Bolin Creek.

Bolin Forest is a forested habitat made up Bolin Creek and its tributaries and 425 acres south of Homestead Road, the majority of which will remain a haven for wildlife and for the recreational enjoyment for runners, bikers, and nature lovers.  Two of the protected parcels are owned by the Town of Carrboro and the University of North Carolina.

Randee and Salli will share their favorite places in Bolin Forest.  The walk will highlight “treasures” of the forest, including Castlebury Mill site, the beaver pond, and other surprises.

Join the Sunday walk with Randee and Salli other Friends of Bolin Creek at 2 pm on Tripp Farm Road just off the intersection with Pathway in Carrboro. Kids, students and folks of all ages are welcome.

Randee helps McDougle Middle School students plant rain garden plants
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Seasonal monitoring of Bolin Creek

Join Friends of Bolin Creek for our seasonal monitoring of Bolin Creek!
Chapel Hill Community Center: Sunday, October 9th, 2 PM

  • See how our creek is doing
  • Learn about creek critters
  • Kids welcome!

We will use simple water chemistry tests as well as macroinvertebrate bioindicators to assess our current creek health. Bring water shoes!  For more information, contact BetsyKempter@gmail.com.

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Board of Aldermen makes Greenways Appointments

At a regular meeting on September 13th, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen made appointments to the Greenways Commission. Marc Desormeau, Charlie Hillman, Gary Junker, and Mary Sonis were appointed.

Marc Desormeau lives in the Highlands. He and his wife have 3 children and they are avid bicyclists.  His company “Sundogs Solutions” believes in sustainable communities and renewable energy, and does solar installations and green building projects.

Charlie Hillman is also an avid cyclist.  He runs the blog Bike Carrboro which promotes biking in the area. He is former chair of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

Gary Junker lives near Morgan Creek and was the only person to be reappointed to the Greenways Commission where he has served since October 2, 2007.  He works for the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools.

Mary Sonis lives in Fair Oaks with her family.  She has a wide knowledge of wildlife in the Upper Bolin Creek and wider community, a perspective that has been missing from the Commission. Her regular wildlife column appears in the Mill supplement of the Carrboro Citizen.

According to its mission, this Commission “recommends to the Board policies, programs, and actions that may assist the town in safeguarding the water quality, environment and livability of the community by establishing greenways.” Friends of Bolin Creek will continue to attend Greenways Commission meetings and advocate for a system of greenways that includes paths featuring the natural woodland experience, in addition to giving input on paved paths that are suitable for bike connections.

We feel a well- balanced citizen advisory commission that receives public input is particularly important to the Board when public money is spent. We want to see the Greenways Commission succeed in its mission and continue.  We are not sure why the Board mandated that the Commission now meet quarterly.

Last year’s sometimes contentious meetings focused on debate whether to recommend the Consultant’s report to pave a 10 foot wide transportation route along Bolin Creek or to leave existing paths along Bolin Creek in a natural state.  After a year and 3 months of discussion the Greenways Commission finally decided not to take action on the proposal and choose to end discussion.

We are looking ahead to productive Greenways discussions over the next year that takes into account UNC’s plans to conserve areas they have committed to conserve. In addition, UNC is paying for several important bike connections including bike paths along Seawell School Road, which will join the northern Carrboro Greenway, and the interior Carolina North bikepath near the new campus.  UNC, Carrboro and Chapel Hill selected a third third bike route, the Campus to Campus Connector,  and put it on the long-range transportation plan for funding. This map show these these bike connections which will benefit both Towns with the added benefit of keeping pavement out of the Upper Bolin Creek Forest.

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Big Sweep Clean up in Orange County Watersheds

Be one of 25,000 volunteers wanted for the 2011 NC Big Sweep’s Silver Anniversary to clean up our watersheds, lakes and creeks during September and October! Litter and debris ruin the scenic beauty of North Carolina and pose threats to wildlife, water quality, pedestrians, traffic and tourism.

Cleanup events abound in Orange County and across the state. Volunteers are needed to join in one of the organized events, or to lead friends, families, neighbors, club members, coworkers, churches or schools to clean up their small parts of the world. For Orange County information, contact Wendy Smith, Town of Chapel Hill Stormwater Management at 919-969-7246. See the Town’s website for contact information and posted events: www.townofchapelhill.org/stormwater. Volunteers who want to travel to other parts of North Carolina should contact the county coordinator listed at www.ncbigsweep.org for directions and inclement weather plans.

All volunteers must sign a Town liability waiver form and those under the age of 18 must have parental permission to participate, unless the event is part of a school classroom program. Those aged 14 and under must have adult leaders. Forms and data sheets are available online: groups sign a waiver & participation form, fill out the data sheet while collecting litter, snap a group photo, estimate weight and properly dispose of trash. Event leaders return paperwork to Chapel Hill’s Stormwater Management Office for a chance to win gift certificates donated by Whole Foods. Trash bags, gloves and vests can be supplied by the Town upon request.

NC Big Sweep is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, a global effort to remove trash from watersheds and waterways. The ICC and NC Big Sweep use collected data to develop litter prevention strategies. Since its inception in 1987 as “Beach Sweep”, NC Big Sweep reports that more than 300,000 volunteers have retrieved over 10 million pounds of debris across our state.

You can help!  Read on for specific information on Big Sweep Orange County events. Continue reading

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What’s Next for Bolin Creek?

A large community of people love Bolin Creek.  What happens to its future health depends on how much our community cares about are this unique community resource, illustrated by this new map developed by Friends of Bolin Creek.

We support the conservation of as much forest land as can be protected. We are fortunate that years of planning has led to protection of over 80% of the 425 acres of forested land in Bolin Forest. Where within the confines of an urbanized area do you find such a resource?  Right here. See Bolin Creek Google Earth map.

Did you know that the Carolina North Development Agreement negotiated by UNC Trustees and Chapel Hill leaders conserves over 325 acres, and the forward thinking of Carrboro leaders conserved another 27 acres when the Adams Tract was purchased in 2004?  Only one publicly-owned 77 acre tract remains unprotected and Friends of Bolin Creek has a goal of conserving it.

The challenges posed by an increasingly developed watershed are ambitious because the Creek and its tributaries are impaired. Urban streams tend to become drier as the trees and natural areas that used to cover the watershed and soak up rain are covered by pavement. Rain water runs off roofs and the land much more quickly and is not captured by tree roots and stored in ground water. Building a rain garden can help recharge underground water supplies.

We want to address the causes of creek pollution and find solutions.  The beauty of the Creek and its wildlife inspires us to return Bolin Creek to a healthy condition. Want to help?  Join our monitoring program, home owner study project,  or help out with our creek education activities.  Sign up here.

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