January 2015 Headwater Highlights

Getting Along Swimmingly With FISH

Dekalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, U.S. Fish and Widlife Deputy Refuge Chief Shaun Sanchez, SFC Board Chairman Bob Kerr, SFC Executive Director Sally Sears, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Sallie Gentry

Dekalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, U.S. Fish and Widlife Deputy Refuge Chief Shaun Sanchez, SFC Board Chairman Bob Kerr, SFC Executive Director Sally Sears, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Sallie Gentry

This time last year, we were dreaming of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife partnership. By the end of 2014, the partnership became reality when Deputy Refuge Chief Shaun Sanchez came together with Sally and Board Chairman Bob Kerr to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). We agreed to work together to engage urban communities in an effort to connect people with nature and protect and conserve the South Fork of Peachtree Creek. The regional Refuge program is underway! First on the list is a new Emory University Environmental Studies intern, Diane Ryu. Welcome to the fold Diane!

A Cleveland Ohio native, Diane studied abroad in Namibia and Botswana, igniting a passion for conservation work. She worked with wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda and focused on environmental degradation.

Welcome to Diane Ryu, our new intern!

Welcome to Diane Ryu, our new intern!

Diane's work with the South Fork will explore urban wildlife refuges. She'll be directed by colleagues from the US Fish and Wildlife Service plus the Greening Youth Foundation.

We are beyond thrilled by this partnership and can hardly wait to see the fantastic impact it has on restoring the creek and building trails that bring us all a little closer to nature. 

Life In An Urban Watershed
By Christine Van Roosen - volunteer

Christine at the confluence point, next to the South Fork. It was 8-10ft higher than normal due to an extended rain event

I live just up the hill from the north fork of Peachtree Creek. In 2009, I stood on a nearby bridge looking down as the creek rushed past, spreading far outside its banks as trunks and trash came spilling downstream in a seething mass. Little did I know then that just a couple of miles downstream, houses on the creek’s floodplain were almost under water.

As a river and coastal kayaker, I’m fascinated by rivers and their courses, navigability, health, and challenges.  I’ve ranged throughout the Southeast on long kayaking trips in remote and not-so-remote areas. But I never thought about what happens to the creek in my own backyard on its journey to the Chattahoochee.

My eyes were opened on a South Fork Conservancy tour this month, just after a massive rain event. As I watched the normally lazy creek flash by at 1900 cubic feet per second (a Class 2 creek), I began to fully understand how important it is to constantly battle erosion and effectively control storm water overflows via carefully engineered technique. Structures like the “upside-down bridge” on the Confluence Trail mitigate damage in major storms like this one. I was also intrigued by the archaeological sites so close to the river, the carefully planted stands of chestnut trees and indigenous plants, the signs of beavers at work and the birding opportunities that draw avid birders to the area. It was encouraging to meet neighbors and friends of the river out and about in the damp, exploring and telling stories about river-related events. Perhaps most importantly, I was happy to learn more about my “wild” neighborhood.

Spotting something special on the South Fork. From Left to Right: Ellen Miller, Eric Bowles, Teresa Mayes, Stella Wissner, John Mayes, Sally Sears

Spotting something special on the South Fork. From Left to Right: Ellen Miller, Eric Bowles, Teresa Mayes, Stella Wissner, John Mayes, Sally Sears

Winging It With The Birders

A generous round of silent applause for my friends in the Atlanta Audubon Chapter.  Generous because you shared your affection for our downy, rufous and nutty friends up and down the South Fork. Silent so we don't scare the birds. And Applause for all your tolerance for my wild binocular swings.

My first ever bird count began in a misting sunrise at Zonolite Park January 3, 2015. Four robins waited for me on a wire above the Motorcar Studio next to the Soto Zen Center. Recognizing the first birds made me dangerously confident. By noon we had  39 different species of birds, many of them brown and small. My boots were muddy  and I was chastened by how much I did NOT know.

Favorite birds? Ellen Miller our leader spotted a brown creeper. She jumped up and down. It was a species first for Stella WissnerEric Bowles confirmed it circling a giant tree, like a barbershop pole twisting up the trunk.  Except the tree is brown, the bird is brown and it creeps.Three of our best birders were celebrating.

Teresa Mayes' favorite was the red-shouldered hawk. It flew out of the woods across the new meadow cleaned up from decades of asbestos contamination. American Crows heard the hawk and started protesting with loud caws. The pond held ten green Mallard Ducks, which joined the protest. The hawk sat like the king of all he surveyed and took the ruckus as applause.My favorite were a pair of Great Blue Herons. One flapped upstream toward Herbert Taylor Park. The other looked us over coolly and minced away.

"The most dangerous animal out here," said Eric Bowles, as cool as the heron. No kidding? Fatal?   "People trying to rescue an injured heron get a bill through their skull and die."   A shiver ran through my binoculars.   Yikes! The birds were here first. I'm the newcomer on the creek. Carol Bush liked the Kinglets, ruby and golden crowned. Big name, tiny bird, but lots of energy.

Bird counting at Zonolite Park

Bird counting at Zonolite Park

Eric Bowles kept a wildlife tally of other species. "We ended the day with 7 deer – 5 at Zonolite and 2 at Cheshire Farm.  We also saw a sleeping raccoon high in a dead tree on the Confluence Trail.   The highlight for me was at the very end of the day on the Cheshire Farm Trail.  Not 25 feet off I-85 at Lindbergh a red shouldered hawk was carrying and feeding on a pigeon – with the Cooper’s hawk that originally caught the pigeon nearby."

Now let me ask all the Atlantans who drive on Lindbergh Drive every week. That's about a hundred thousand motorists.  Do you know what's for supper on the Creek?  Alos, a final question for the Audubon tally: If two hawks are eating a pigeon, does the pigeon count? 

Final tally for the Audubon Bird Count on the South Fork on January third: 43 species, 414 birds.

City Innovation Invites Questions From The Public

Good Idea? Atlanta city hall wants ideas to make money for the city, using park and greenspace real estate as a possible source.Mayor Reed's office wonders if ideas like Citi Bike in New York, sponsored by CitiBank, would work in Atlanta. Maybe internet hotspots sponsored by an internet provider in exchange for a large sign on an internet tower?

Park and greenspace backers and their volunteers are digesting the idea. Some see this as a great way to afford extra amenities for parks and greenspace users. Others are wary of commercializing precious green sanctuaries. What do you think?

The deadline for Information requests is Feb. 4, 2014. You can find the Request for Information form as well as additional info here

Volunteers Lead, We Follow In 2015

The group down the many priorities into these and then assigned them to various categories

The group down the many priorities into these and then assigned them to various categories

Last night, a remarkable and invested cross section of the South Fork Community gathered to help us figure out what 2015 will look like. Using 2014 as both an example and a lesson, these 14 neighbors, outdoor enthusiasts, and board members put their heads together to determine organizational priorities. They worked through four phases during the session starting with identifying priorities and ending with tasks that accomplish them.

See the picture to the right? The group closest to us, composed of (from left to right) Anita Brown, Tom Tomaka, Chris Nelson, and Diane Ryu, worked so carefully and considerately that they were always the last group to finish an activity. Further down the table you see Sally Sears, Van Hall, and Christine Van Roosen having a lively discussion about the applicability of their ideas. Martha Porter Hall, Margaret Stewart, and Paul Looper sat at the end of the table fairly discussing each and every idea in front of them (see picture below). You won’t be able to see the folks deliberating from the comfy couches in the living room. Rich Sussman, Bob Scott, Barbara Baggerman, and Dave Kaufman’s discussions were full of jokes and laughter and they got the job done in comfort and style.

Margaret Stewart holding a priority her group was discussing

Margaret Stewart holding a priority her group was discussing

So what did they decide? In first place, Outreach- get the word out so more people will volunteer and support this vision. 2nd Place, Trail Maintenance- keep those trails clean, open, and walkable. Third, continue working to restore native plants and eradicate invasive plants. Finally, capital improvements, like signs and bike racks, are highly desired along the trail.

Now, we hand off not one, but 14 torches to these wonderful volunteers and work with them as they lead many of these events and outreach efforts, accomplishing tasks they themselves identified in the visioning session. We can see the path glowing brightly ahead. Can you?

Posted on January 13, 2015 .