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Learn to Love Durham’s Ellerbe Creek

While out fishing on a lake with her father, 7-year-old Laura Smith lost one of her baby teeth.

ECWA Beaver Marsh
ECWA Beaver Marsh

As the tooth was falling out, she hooked a big fish.

“That’s one of our family folk tales,” said Smith, now a parent as well as a stormwater expert with the city of Durham. “When families spend time in nature together, they are building the foundation for a lifelong environmental ethic, not to mention forming great memories.”

Smith will be on hand Saturday to help local residents explore their urban backyard on a free tour of the city’s nature preserves, sponsored by the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA).

Four preserves located on the banks of the Ellerbe Creek are on the tour, with a fifth tour stop in the city’s North Street neighborhood that will teach residents what they can do at home to help improve water quality around the Triangle.

Chris Dreps, the association’s executive director, is eager for the public to discover The Rocks, a brand new preserve on the tour.

“I think this is a place where some kids will fall in love with creeks,” he said.

The Rocks Preserve features a looping, wooded trail that dips down to the creek’s edge. Rainwater from around the county runs through this creek, past heaps of rock with their own stories to tell. One splintered stone between the trail and the water’s edge looks as if it was shattered by a lightning strike or Thor’s hammer.

“We want people to be at the preserves, enjoying their creeks,” Dreps said. “We believe it has to be a part of the fabric of everyday life.”

Ellerbe Creek
Ellerbe Creek
SHAWN ROCCO File N&O photo

The association’s education and outreach coordinator, Chris Sajdak, is most excited about an animal rehabilitation presentation that will take place at The Rocks.

“You can learn what and what not to do when you encounter an injured wild animal,” Sajdak said.

Other stops on the tour include the 17-acre Wood, the oldest of the four preserves. An ecologist will take visitors on a scavenger hunt and help identify species of plants and animals that can be found in Durham back yards.

“You’re going to see animals that live in your city,” Dreps said. “This is the actual nature of your city.”

Visitors to the Beaver Marsh Preserve will find experts from the N.C. Herpetological Society presenting some of the snakes and lizards who call the Triangle home. Boots and nets will be provided to kids who wish to join a critter hunt at the preserve’s beaver pond. Pearl Mill Preserve, the smallest of the four preserves, will have its industrial past presented by local historian John Schelp. There will be a craft activity for the public, featuring dyes made from native plants.

“We tend to open a lot of the land we protect,” Dreps said. “The intent is for there to be open space to protect the creek and make it an asset to the Triangle region.”

“By carving out these little preserves,” Smith said, “that helps the big picture.”

Some other activities that afternoon will be building a birdfeeder for migratory birds and learning bird calls.

“If we provide (wildlife) with the space to be a part of the fabric of the community,” Dreps said, “it will enrich the community. That makes the city special.”

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