Darby Creek Advocate Volume 11, Issue 1  January 2003

News from the Watershed

Confluence of Hellbranch tributaries to be preserved

A critical 224-acre parcel in western Franklin County will become a restored riparian preserve under a plan involving Prairie Township, the Nature Conservancy, the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

The preserve straddles U.S Rte. 40 where Hamilton Run and Clover-Groff Run join to form Hellbranch Run, a major tributary of Big Darby Creek. A portion of McCoy Run also flows through the property. The preserve contains 1.35 miles of stream. Until December, the property was a sod farm owned by the Phillips family. As in much of the upper Hellbranch watershed, the streams on the property have been channelized and have minimal vegetation along them. Most of the land is in the 100-year flood plan, with hydric, or wet, soils predominating.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the land and subsequently resold it to Prairie Township. Funds for the purchase came from the voter-approved Clean Ohio Fund, the Wetland Reserve Program (NRCS), and Prairie Township. A permanent conservation easement on most of the property will ensure that it remains undeveloped.

In the future, the property may be used as a park offering trails and other passive activities. A small area may be used for a parking lot or park buildings.

Restoration of the land is expected to include planting of riparian trees, the development of wetland vegetaion, and stream channel restoration to provide more natural riffle-run habitat. The property may also have some prairie plants added beneath AEP power lines on the site.

Benefits of the preserve will be many. In addition to adding much needed green space and recreational opportunities to the area, restoration of natural vegetation on the site will significantly reduce runoff of sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides into the Darby system, according to the Nature Conservancyís Anthony Sasson.

Within the streams, improved habitat will benefit numerous fishes and other aquatic creatures. Historically, Hellbranch was recognized as one of the finest small streams in Ohio. Unfortunately, the streamís ecology has collapsed in the last two decades, to the point where parts of the watershed donít attain minimal water quality standards set by the Ohio EPA.

In addition, preservation of the propertyís flood plain and hydric characteristics will help mitigate flooding problems downstream. The region has been notorious for flooding, mostly due to flood plain filling for development upstream.

Darby Vision update

Darby Vision, the 5-county effort to craft a stakeholde-driven watershed protection plan, has posted the job of Watershed Coordinator. The planning effort has been without a coordinator since Tam Kutzmark resigned last summer. The group hopes to have the position filled early this year. DCA sits on the Steering Committee of Darby Vision.

Meanwhile the group has made progress on two fronts. An introductory mailing was sent to creekside landowners throughout the watershed, including landowners on all major tributaries. The mailing introduced the locally driven planning effort, and sought basic information on landowner property and
concerns. The mailing got a good response, with roughly 25-30 percent of recipients returning the surveys as of November.

Darby Vision has also made headway on completing a watershed inventory, a requirement of its state grant. The group split into various subcommittees to collect basic information on aspects of the watershed, including environmental, cultural and economic data.

The group plans to start crafting the plan early this year, with a goal of having an initial draft by midyear.

The plan will present options for improving water quality throughout the Darby watershed. Special emphasis will be given to areas not in compliance with EPA water quality standards. The plan will emphasize ways to reduce non-point source pollutants in area creeks.

All recommendations will be optional, and will not lead to further regulations on landowners. However, the group will encourage participation by watershed jurisdictions. And it is expected that upon completion of the plan the watershed will be eligible for grants to help implement conservation measures.

OSU students assist DCA again

For the second straight year OSU graduate students contributed work to DCA as part of their coursework in environmental studies. The students were enrolled in professor Tomas Koontzís environmental management course.

Students Robyn Wilson, Kelly Powell, and Barnabas Moses participated. Among the projects they helped with were Darby Creek Day, compiling a DCA history, website redesigns, soliciting donations, and helping to design and obtain signs to be posted at Corridor Fund tree planting sites. The students also gave DCA a report with recommendations on how to improve our effectiveness as a group.

These useful contributions are greatly appreciated by DCA, and we hope to continue this partnership in the future.

Jerome Township to craft Comprehensive Plan

Jerome Township in southern Union County has been experiencing many of the development pressures typical of central Ohio communities (see March 2002 Darby Creek Advocate). There have been tensions between some political leaders, who have promoted aggressive expansion of housing in the mostly
rural township, and residents who prefer slower growth and the maintenance of the areaís pastoral character. Much of the township is in the Darby watershed, and it includes some tributaries that are in poor condition.

A citizenís group, Committee for Preservation of Rural Living, has successfully overturned numerous rezonings for subdivisions, and recently spearheaded a petition drive to overturn a change in zoning regulations that would have effectively restricted the rights of citizens to challenge rezonings.

Now, in a further positive development, trustees have approved a plan to spend $55,000 on a complete comprehensive plan. The plan will be facilitated by Burns, Bertsch and Harris Consulting, the firm that is working on the Plain City comprehensive plan.

Hopefully this signals a more reasonable growth policy for the township, and portends future improvements in water quality protections within the township.

Darby Partners meeting set

The next Darby Partners meeting will be held on April 9, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., at the Cedar Ridge Lodge in Battelle-Darby Metro Park. The quarterly meeting brings together Darby stakeholders and political and agency representatives to share information on a wide variety of Darby topics. The meeting is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. All interested parties are welcome to attend.