Neighbors Helping Ellerbe Creek

Have you explored the mile-long South Ellerbe Creek Trail on the eastern edge of Trinity Park? Joanne Abel, who has lived next to the greenway on Tyler Court since the 1980s, says, “It’s great seeing families biking together or parents walking their kids to school along the greenway. It provides a wildlife corridor for many animals–foxes, coyotes, deer. And it’s a great place for bird watching! On recent walks, I’ve spotted hooded warbler, great blue heron, pine warbler, barred owl and hawks.”

The fact that wildlife such as the great blue heron are making their home here is a good sign. As an urban waterway, the creek is not exactly the picture of health. Left unchecked, trash and pollutants from all over downtown wash into Ellerbe Creek. Its banks are heavily eroded, due to decades of untreated stormwater runoff from pavement and rooftops. Invasive vines and shrubs have outcompeted and replaced many native plants, making poor habitat for native animals.  

The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA), with help from concerned neighbors, has been working to reduce pollution in the creek, help native wildlife thrive, and help people enjoy the creek even more.  In ECWA’s Pearl Mill Preserve, a 5-acre area running along the creek between Urban Ave and Knox St., accomplishments include 1) removing invasive vines to allow native plants to flourish, 2) installing a bioretention pond near Markham Ave. to slow down the flow of stormwater and filter out pollution before it enters the creek, 3) creating an enhanced pollinator habitat, and 4) installing interpretive signs and benches.

By slowing down stormwater as it flows towards the creek, this bioretention pond near Markham Ave. reduces erosion along the creek banks and allows pollutants to settle out of the water before reaching the creek.  

In 2020, neighbors helped expand the acreage under ECWA’s management.  A local landowner offered ECWA an undeveloped 1-acre property between Tyler Ct. and W. Club Blvd. Even though the land was donated, ECWA still needed money to accept the donation–closing costs, legal fees and funds for necessary maintenance.  A group of Tyler Court neighbors and friends learned of the need and raised over $4,000 to help!  The new parcel will be incorporated into the Eva M. Lively Nature Preserve.  The first priority will be to remove invasive species.

Over the years, neighbors have helped the creek in many other ways, too. On MLK Day this year, Joanne and her Tyler Court neighbors joined with other neighborhoods to clean up the greenway from Knox St. to Club Blvd. She said, “We enjoyed it so much that we did it again a few months later!” 

Joanne, along with neighbors Leslie McClellan (Trinity Park) and Joanne Andrews (Old North Durham), are Pearl Mill Preserve Stewards. We have them to thank for stocking the “mutt mitt” holder, cleaning the information signs, and tending the Burt’s Bees pollinator garden near Green St.  Joanne adds, “One of us paints the benches, and we all pick up trash. We’ve also spent a lot of time removing invasive plants. This spring we removed 8 large garbage bags of Oriental false hawksbill (Youngia japonica), a big problem all over North Carolina. We could use some help!”  

To get involved, check out and stay tuned for next year’s Beaver Queen pageant, hopefully to be in person in Duke Park.

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