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Why not expand the Creekside Nature Area?

The Creekside Nature Area is a hidden gem: a Blue Oak riparian forest smack dab in the middle of a dense urban area.

At first glance, we know the answer to the question in the title of this post. It's outside-the-box thinking - something that would benefit the entire community. Ask yourself if the school board is capable of this sort of innovation. Yeah, right. Still...it IS a viable "what if" because the floodplain area at Creekside is unbuildable. The County's Drainage Planning and Development people have told the school district not to mess with the floodplain. In response, the consultants for the proposed new middle school campus at Creekside told the school district's Facilities Committee they understand the requirements and are not intending to propose any fill or structures within the floodplain.

OK, if the school district can't use the floodplain, can it be used for something other than flood protection? Absolutely. Our region has numerous local parks that, though flooded on occasion, function as park and recreation facilities when there are no flood waters. Using the unbuildable portion of the school site would be a benefit to the commonweal. Let's explore that.

Why not cherish the rest of the creek area?

Beyond its obvious value for flood protection, Chicken Ranch Slough along the northwestern part of the site begs for riparian restoration. That segment of the Slough is loaded with non-native trash trees, and shrubs. It has a long wire fence that's somewhat in disrepair.  Those factors potentially worsen flood flows and collect litter and junk. There are steep, erodable banks that can clog downstream reaches with sediment along with an abundance of habitat that, let's just say, isn't optimal for the critters. There are grant programs that can pay for urban stream restoration. Mother Nature pretty much takes care of ongoing maintenance.

What about the sloped parts of the property that drop down from the current open field? Along with other trees, why not plant Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) there? Valley Oaks grow best where the roots can find a water table (like along a creek) and, once established, tolerate our beloved Central Valley dry heat and droughts quite well. Besides, they turn out to be really good at carbon sequestration, making them desirable as a climate change solution. There are grant programs that can pay for establishment of oak forests. Mother Nature pretty much takes care of ongoing maintenance.

The wide, unbuildable sloped area could support oak trees, native plants, trails and permanent open space.

And underneath the oaks? At present, the sloped part of the school property is charitably characterized as having a poorly-maintained suburban lawn. What if it was removed and replaced with native plants that would diversify the ecosystem? You know, with some wildflowers and bunch grasses that would add color and attract pollinators like birds and butterflies. A riparian buffer of small trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants that can provide shade and organic matter for wildlife and beauty for us. There are grant programs that can pay for habitat diversity. Mother Nature pretty much takes care of ongoing maintenance.

Community recreation would be another significant benefit. Importantly, access to the existing Creekside Nature Area would be preserved. Sure, the public has had unfettered access to the Nature Area since the land came under park district control way back when. But now the school district is talking about blocking off access to "protect the children", which, based on current practice at other schools, means a fence you have to climb over even when school isn't in session (like all summer long). Or a narrow pedestrian footpath that's muddy in the winter. Well, the unbuildable portion of the school site is wide enough to be viable for ADA access, with side benefits for access by maintenance, police and emergency vehicles (including fire trucks). Given that the surrounding neghborhood has no other open space besides the existing Nature Area, the value of fully-accessible public open space - where kids can play, where new parents can take kids too young for school, where seniors can relax, where plein air painters can paint - is obvious. What makes it more intriguing are the demographics of the surrounding area: it's a largely disadvantaged population that's economically challenged, with lots of refugees and people of color. Those are check off boxes for meeting societal diversity/equity/inclusion goals. Not everyone can get to Effie Yeaw Nature Center, you know. And even if they could, too many people there can ruin the experience. There are grant programs that can pay for parkland acquisition, establishment of low-maintenance trail systems and parks, and recreational access for disadvantaged populations.

Lastly, consider the value of such a facility as a scientific resource. Plant oaks and native vegetation. Watch them grow. Conduct species inventories over time. Monitor drought, flood and climate change performance. Those kinds of inquiries can be carried out by children at all grade levels, by university undergrads and graduate students, as well as by governmental, private non-profit organizations and even for-profit enterprises. Essentially, adding to the current Blue Oak riparian forest with acreage for Valley Oaks and a larger understory of native plants is tantamount to creating a Botanical Garden that could attract visitors for a variety of purposes. Think about Buchart Gardens - what was once a quarry is now a bucket list reason to visit Vancouver Island. It was once ridiculed as preposterous. Now it is beloved. A facility like this would also be a no-brainer for outdoor learning. But shouldn't that outdoor learning experience be available to students across the entire region, not just Creekside students?  There are grant programs that can pay for this, too.

All right, dear readers, what do YOU want? Is it time for our community to have nice things for a change? Would you like to see something like this happen? If so, now is the time to speak up and let the school board, the park board and the County know your preferences.

The Creekside Nature Area is beautiful. It benefits people of all ages and is home to species of concern. Does the community want to make it bigger and better?