Last fall, ECWA was selected by The Conservation Fund as one of five nonprofit partners across the country to participate in a Growing Greener Foundations through Urban Parks with Purpose program. The initiative is focused on building equity through a park, trail, or water quality project that improves and heals a neighborhood asset chosen by community members.
For this project ECWA is working in an area that is relatively new to us: The Goose Creek Watershed. Goose Creek is a tributary to Ellerbe Creek that runs through downtown East Durham and flows into Ellerbe Creek right behind the waste water treatment plant on East Club Blvd. We are a full year into the Parks with Purpose Project, and we are excited about the relationships ECWA staff and board members have been building with new colleagues in East Durham.
As ECWA historically had very few ties to East Durham, staff reached out to our networks to connect with community members, professionals, and other nonprofits knowledgeable in the area. We held meetings and listening sessions with a focus group, the East Ellerbe Advisory Group. ECWA and these advisors have worked over the past several months to identify the critical steps for moving the project forward. Not controlling nor dictating the sequence of this project, but letting the community take the lead, has been a new, and at times uncomfortable, experience for ECWA. ECWA is consciously choosing to play a supporting role to help develop community leadership on a Goose Creek project.
What have we learned from this process? Issues that matter to Goose Creek watershed residents must guide ECWA’s project identification. They include: flooded playgrounds, school yards, back yards, and homes; lack of jobs; lack of affordable housing; and the “green gentrification” that occurs when new greenways are blazed through old neighborhoods. Recognizing these realities is critical to developing any future partnership opportunities that work for people and the creek.
ECWA has always cared about Durham’s creeks and reducing water quality impacts from development-related stormwater. Learning and working at the neighborhood level is ECWA’s story. ECWA is now bringing that same grass-roots commitment, as well as its water quality expertise, to support community-driven environmental problem-solving in Goose Creek.
ECWA's vision is a living creek connecting human and natural communities in Durham. Through land acquisition, collaboration with the city, and public education, we hope to create a Durham where residents can bike or walk across the watershed and stop at local businesses and nature preserves along the way.