06 December 2012

Natural Values Linger at Relict Creek in Omaha

A bit of a creek still steadily flowing within the confines of urban Omaha has gotten little or no respect from the owners of property where it occurs.

The short length of waterway is one of the last, few places within the city environs where a naturalistic creek flows among a woodland setting. This particular creek is now, in the modern-era, mostly within the Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park, or cemetery.

Immense changes are pending. The City of Omaha has finalized plans to alter the setting in conjunction with efforts to address sewer- and storm-water runoff. Their proposal includes particular changes at this unnamed tributary of the former Saddle Creek, into which this tributary flowed. Basics of the plan propose building two berm across the creek to divert storm-water into basins that will be built on the lowland terraces upon the creek's east side. The basins will hold the runoff for slow release into the drainage basin to revise the current situation where there is a combined sewer-storm water situation during times when there is a lot of runoff, resulting from precipitation events.

Detention ponds plan for the creek on the east side of Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park. Image courtesy of the Public Works department, City of Omaha.

City officials have requested supportive funding for the wetland basin portion of the project from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Because the effort would include placing fill upon a Nebraska wetland feature, a permit is required from the Corps of Engineers. This permit has not yet been issued.

Several attempts to learn the details associated with the permit application have not been successful. City of Omaha officials will not provide any information, indicating that they would only provide specifics once a permit was issued. A Corps of Engineers official said specifics might only be provided following a Freedom of Information Act request.

The application is from a public entity, to another public entity, yet neither of them will divulge details. At another recent meeting a City of Omaha official, well aware of the situation indicated that a conversation could occur about this, yet a week later, there nothing more said, via phone, and more particularly, email.

Creek Historics

A creek among rolling prairie amidst the hills westward of the Missouri River was denoted by government-hired land surveyors in the 1850s. This creek, historically, was indicated in the survey notes as being within sections 30 and 31, Township 15 North, Range 13 East. There is a map which shows it place among the land features.

Notes by the surveyors indicate a hollow with ponds along the boundary of section 30 and 31, with its course to the northwest. While along the line between section 30 and 31, an unnamed stream was denoted. Specific species of trees within the local area were oak, walnut, ash, elm and hickory. It was generally described as consisting of "high, rolling prairie lands with some groves of oak and other trees interspersed." There was a plowed field present along the east side of the denoted creek alignment.

The government land-office survey was done during June 1856.

Among the details expressed by the government workers, was a mention in the surveyor's field book of "saddle creek" and the hand-written details indicating its particular, measured width.

View of the creek on the east side of the memorial park. December 2, 2012.

West Omaha

As the City of Omaha expanded westward from the bluffs near the Missouri River, the nature of the setting underwent dramatic changes.

The nearby historic Westlawn rail-transit station was a name taken for a nearby large cemetery. The West Lawn Cemetery had it first burials in 1910, according to historic details. The place was an expanse of many acres, originally mapped amidst west Omaha, prominent southward of Saddle Creek, and then south of Center Street. There is also the Bohemian Cemetery, with its open space.

Saddle Creek became the name for a primary street thoroughfare, as this waterway was buried beneath concrete and other urban constructions which continually and dramatically diminished and nearly completely obliterated any natural features of the landscape.

Area of woodlands were storm-water catchment basins will be constructed. December 2, 2012.

Another area of woodlands were storm-water catchment basins will be constructed, and just southward of the adjacent picture.

This situation was ongoing during each and every subsequent decade. The unnamed creek, which was once among hills covered with prairie grass during historic times, has become a dumping ground.

Dirt from burials has been placed continually for many decades, upon its west bank, with thousands of cubic yards present. Along the creek, there are piles of tree trunks and branches, as well as some head-stones from burials caught among the debris. There are many discarded vehicle tires upon the creek banks. At another spot, a jacuzzi lies upside down and forgotten, now nothing but a big bit of worthlessness. Leaves are dumped into the channel at its southern extent. Other rubble is present along the creek and its adjoining woods which goes from an outlet at its south end, and after its short distance among the environment, goes back into an underground inlet on the north end near Center Street, where Saddle Creek once flowed.

As this creek still lingers within its historic confines, there is suitably wild habitat for various sorts of wild birds. Especially appreciated there lately have been wrens.

In late November there was a Carolina Wren vividly seen, and surprisingly a few minutes after a comment was made that the setting seemed proper for this species. Another sort of wren might have been about, but an accomplice had no interest in looking.

Early in December — due to a particular effort of individual discovery — a Winter Wren was heard, because this setting of water and woodland is the place which this feathered mite prefers. It was seen on a Sunday morning, during an outing to particularly denote the birdlife along the flowing creek, which is especially important because its flow of water attracts birds, that congregate and especially bathe on warm days during the winter months.

Into the Future

This creek-scape creek deserves conservation attention and consideration. The disposal of dumped dirt — for decades — along its edges is detrimental, and with any sort of slump, would completely bury the creek. The trash and tires, along with other assorted discards should be dealt with, through a community effort. Fallen trees are prevalent in the hollow, and though not artificial, need to be dealt with in a limited manner to avoid further degradation of creek channel.

This creek, apparently first known during 1856, deserves care and rehabilitation. The historic setting of trees and water — which was once a place of prairie grass and fresh water — can be appreciated rather than treated with apparent disregard.

Leaves dumped into the creek by property owners east of the memorial park.