Orange County will celebrate its first Creek Week, which aims to educate the community on local waterways, from March 12-19.
The event, intended to become an annual tradition, will feature virtual educational events on the importance of clean water, while also having fun in the process. In addition to litter cleanup challenges, there will be a virtual 5K run and green infrastructure tours.
Sammy Bauer, a community education coordinator for Stormwater Division of Chapel Hill who is organizing Creek Week, said there are many small ways the community can help improve water quality.
“We all need healthy clean water in order to live,” they said. “My favorite part is that at pretty much any age, everyone can be doing little small things that can help protect those drinking water sources.”
Bauer said the Town of Chapel Hill exclusively hosted a Water Week in 2018 but wanted to expand to Carrboro and Hillsborough this year.
“We could partner with a lot of the amazing folks across the entire county to do a week-long celebration of our waterways,” Bauer said.
But helping waterways takes more than cleaning up litter. Terry Hackett, stormwater and environmental services manager for Hillsborough, said the area is home to invasive species such as the Hydrilla plant and English ivy, which can decrease biodiversity and interfere with ecosystems.
The Hillsborough Tree Board is planning two invasive tree removals for Creek Week for March 12 at 1 p.m. on Riverwalk, Hackett said. There will be an additional removal event on March 16 at the same time.
He said task forces and events like Creek Week are used to help "make a dent" in the invasive species problem.
An integral part of Creek Week is helping the community understand how they can protect waterways from damage, Bauer said.
Most Orange County drinking water comes from local waterways, such as Morgan Creek.
Bauer said many people have the misconception that storm drains immediately go to a wastewater treatment plant before eventually landing back in creeks and lakes.
But storm drains are directly connected to local creeks, which means anything on the street also lands in creeks. This can range from oil dripping from cars, grass clippings or pet waste from roads that can enter into storm drains and penetrate Orange County waterways.
Johnny Randall, director of conservation at North Carolina Botanical Garden, will host a Morgan Creek cleanup on March 12 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. for Creek Week. The event was coordinated alongside the Morgan Creek Valley Alliance.
“So much of the trash that falls within the Morgan Creek watershed oftentimes ends up in a creek,” he said. “Because that’s where the water flows, that’s where the trash is going to flow."
Randall said the Morgan Creek Valley Alliance removes much of the litter found in the creek, ranging from bigger objects as big as tires to smaller items like plastic bottles, paper bags and tennis balls.
“I just can’t believe how much garbage there is on our roadways,” he said. "It’s just disgusting.”
Logan Timm, an environmental science major at UNC, said she is helping plan student-specific events for Creek Week as an intern with the UNC Department of Environment, Health and Safety.
Timm is planning a Crafts by the Creek event for UNC students to paint river rocks and celebrate the importance of creeks, which is set for March 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. The event will be held earlier than the scheduled Creek Week to accommodate UNC's spring break.
She hopes Creek Week and Crafts by the Creek can help students understand their impact on waterways.
“People don’t really understand that every little critter, every part of the ecosystem is so important,” she said. “Every single part of the ecosystem relies on itself, and you don’t want to throw that off balance.”
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