Sinking Creek Restoration Project aims to educate

Tony Casey • Sep 26, 2013 at 8:09 PM

The Sinking Creek Stream Restoration Project hit a big checkpoint this past week, but isn’t stopping there.

With a great deal of the stream project complete at the newly restored wetlands location, just off King Springs Road, the collection of interested parties is now moving toward using the space for education.

A new parking area and informative sign welcome guests to the 28-acre park, which carries down into a wetland area, complete with wildlife, including deer in the grass and trout in the stream.

Bill Francisco, one of the original envisioners of the project, sees this new park as a perfect venue for education. The foundation is set, Francisco said, for local students and groups to take advantage of a chance to learn about this kind of ecosystem, and specifically the E. coli bacteria, which can be found in uncared for wetland areas.

About 10 years ago, Francisco’s life was personally affected by the bacteria, after his 6-year-old son, Jacob, died after being contaminated with E. coli. Since then, he’s worked to improve the quality of local wetlands.

“The purpose of this park is education,” Francisco said.

He and the committee members on the project hope to use the land as a native plant preservation to be used by East Tennessee State University and for other educational endeavors.

Gary Barrigar, president of the Boone Watershed Partnership, highlighted the help the project received from Johnson City, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and individuals who have come through to help the project progress since its beginning.

The TDA was a big contributor of funds, giving the project a $300,000 grant, which met a 40-percent match from Johnson City. Francisco said the group has raised about $20,000 in 18 months of fundraising so far, and has big hopes for the next steps in the project. He spoke excitedly about elevated boardwalks and gazebos around the Sinking Creek stream, giving the ideal space for educational information to be displayed.

Another hope of the group is to tie in the developing Rails-to-Trails project, which is a 10-mile stretch of railroad between Johnson City and Elizabethton, sitting less than a mile from the wetlands.

Tuesday night’s celebration of the wetlands project included Barrigar and Francisco’s presentation to a group of about 50 interested citizens, who were giving light refreshments as they watched slides of the progress. After the first portion of the evening, there was a “field trip” to Sinking Creek to see what had been done.

On the way to his car, Barrigar was stopped by Sara Moore, a resident living near the wetlands who expressed the sentiments of many of the present individuals.

“You all did a good thing with your hard work,” Moore said.

The field trip to Sinking Creek included about over a dozen interested citizens who wanted to see how well the wetlands had come along.

Sarah and Michael Bradfield, of Johnson City, said they came out to support Francisco’s efforts and see the wetlands for themselves.

Tim Ormond, one of the engineers of the project, brought the group to different spots to show what had been done. He pointed to areas where springs carried into other bodies of water, which species would be introduced to the area, where banks had been sloped and cleaned up, how debris and garbage had been removed, ramps to control the flow of the water, and explained how projects like this naturally filter water to help reduce the amount of bacteria like E. coli.

One thing the group wants to make certain is that the work has just begun. There will be groups from AmeriCorps and ETSU coming later this week to pick up remaining litter, remove some of the invasive species, and to possibly do some new plantings.

For information about the project, check out their Sinking Creek Restoration Project page at http://on.fb.me/15SufNF, or call Sarah Ketron at 220-7480.

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