A Great Blue Heron, Cherry Garcia and the Founding of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance

By Don Pelton and Jane Pelton
Members, Wolf Creek Community Alliance

INSPIRATION

CLICK TO ENLARGEOne day in the fall of 2002, local contractor Jonathan Keehn had an unforgettable experience while walking along a stretch of Wolf Creek in downtown Grass Valley. He described that experience a couple of months later in an influential article: “I was walking along the creek behind the Safeway and came across a great blue heron standing knee-deep facing upstream, obviously fishing. After eyeing me for a few moments, she took off. A few wing flaps brought her over the freeway as she headed down toward French Ravine.”

Reminiscing years later about the founding of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance (WCCA), two of the founding members said that it was Jonathan’s original article that inspired them to join with him to create the environmental non-profit, dedicated to “preserving and protecting Wolf Creek and its watershed for the benefit of present and future generations”.

In the early months of 2003, the founding group met frequently to talk about the alarming threats to water quality in creeks and streams in the Wolf Creek watershed, and about how a small group of local citizens could enlist community support to restore Wolf Creek. One staple of these early meetings was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. As Jonathan recalled, people would say, “Not another meeting! … Oh wait, there’s gonna be ice cream?” The Wolf Creek Community Alliance wasn’t just another environmental non-profit, it was becoming a community of like-minded souls.

By means of a huge volunteer effort, plus donations from local citizens and occasional grants, the Wolf Creek Community Alliance has grown into a mature and effective watershed organization.

Wolf Creek is a major tributary to the Bear River; it is 20+ miles long, and its watershed encompasses about 78 square miles from the slopes of Banner Mountain to its confluence with the Bear. Within the watershed, population and land uses vary widely so that the interacting streams range from highly degraded and urbanized to relatively wild. Because of the elevation, sun exposure, and variety of soils, the watershed once supported very productive and diverse ecosystems. But today, water and soil contamination persists from past mining and logging. Development has led to increasing deforestation, impermeable surfaces, erosion, and increased water usage. Setbacks and riparian corridors for the Creek have not been consistently maintained. Portions of Wolf Creek have been diverted into culverts and paved-over. Periodic accidents at the City’s waste water treatment plant spill sewage into the Creek. Winter rains wash contaminants into the Creek. The urban and mining-waste effluents that enter Wolf Creek and its tributaries in and around Grass Valley affect downstream farmers who use irrigation water that comes from Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek has been listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act due to bacteria levels.


ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN ITS FIRST 15 YEARS

Water Quality Monitoring: Since 2005, WCCA volunteers have been monitoring water quality at sentinel sites on Wolf Creek and some of its tributaries. The scientific data collected helps to identify and address problems, disturbances, and contamination affecting the health of our watershed and that of all of its human and wild inhabitants.

Education and Outreach: WCCA volunteers work to increase community understanding of water quality problems in the watershed by tabling at local events, and producing brochures, display materials, videos, maps, handouts, and an informative website. WCCA volunteers produced a film about the proposed Wolf Creek Trails plan, “A Creek Runs Through It”. 

Restoration and StewardshipWCCA volunteers lead Stewardship Days to remove non-native invasive vegetation and plant stabilizing native plants along creek banks on public lands, and are available to consult with Creekside property owners who have questions concerning stream stewardship. Volunteers worked with the City of Grass Valley to adopt Grass Valley’s first riparian set-back regulations, and were instrumental in the development of the Wolf Creek Parkway conceptual plan for a connecting system of walk-able and bike-able trails along Wolf Creek through Grass Valley. In partnership with American Rivers and the City of Grass Valley, WCCA is helping to restore a reach of Peabody Creek, a tributary of Wolf Creek that flows through Condon Park.

Creek-Friendly Development: WCCA volunteers attend City and County Planning Commission meetings in order to advocate for creek–friendly practices in construction and landscaping – erosion and sediment control, creek setbacks and easements, riparian buffer zones, wetlands protection, storm water catchment, permeable surfaces, water conservation, wildlife habitat and trails.

Watershed Assessment and Planning: In 2017, in partnership with Sierra Streams Institute and funded by the Bella Vista Foundation, WCCA began work on a 3-phase pre-restoration assessment of conditions throughout the Wolf Creek watershed including land use, land cover, hydrology from historical and current perspectives, abandoned mine sites, and planned future developments.

Collaboration: In addition to project partnerships with American Rivers and Sierra Streams Institute, WCCA volunteers participate with groups working to protect and restore neighboring watersheds: South Yuba River Citizens League during their annual river cleanup, the Fire Safe Council during their annual Scotch Broom Challenge, and The Sierra Fund during their events to bring attention to mining’s toxic legacy.

DO YOU WANT TO HELP?

Volunteer: WCCA welcomes volunteers for water monitoring, restoration and stewardship, wildlife surveys, outreach and education, fundraising and grants, creek advocacy at city and county planning meetings, publicity, and office support. See “Support our Work” on the WCCA website.

ROUND UP when you shop at Briarpatch In the month of February, 2018, WCCA is the Briarpatch “COOP-CAUSE” of the month. You can help when you shop at Briarpatch in February by remembering to tell the cashier at the register to “ROUND UP!” when you pay your bill.

DONATE

Earn rebates for WCCA when you shop at SPD (hand in this form to any SPD market) and Save Mart (use this form).

SAVE THE DATES APRIL 28 – MAY 6, 2018 FOR KNOW YOUR WATERSHED WEEK:

Wolf Creek is spearheading the first annual “Know Your Watershed” event planned for April 28 through May 6 involving over 18 watershed organizations, tribes, land trusts, and other organizations focused on protecting the Bear, Yuba, and American River watersheds. It will be 8 days of learning and fun with hikes, bio-blitzes, school programs, and art programs throughout the watersheds. If you would like to be involved with this event, send an email to  wolf@wolfcreekalliance.org.


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