The Bad and the Good in Valley Creek

This post was started in the first days of July after the June floods had subsided, in the hope that there would be respite from the storms. No such luck, as a couple of inches of rain on July 11 th brought Valley Creek nearly three feet over flood stage. Not as severe an impact as last month’s seven feet, fortunately, so we are going to continue the originally planned optimistic outlook of this post!

The Conservancy creek-side Preserves were beginning to recover. Volunteers have been checking the flood plain and clearing the trails, and the other day we came across a couple of notable features in Valley Creek Preserve.

Our recent blog post covered the effect of the flood on our recently planted trees; the photo above shows why those new trees are so important. The floods brought down a large box elder that had been guarding the left bank of Valley Creek where it enters the north of the Preserve.

The tree fell completely across the creek and took out a large chunk of the bank with its root ball. Over the years, we expect that our new and diverse native trees will replace (and multiply!) the reinforcing, shading, food and habitat functions of that tree.

In the short term, the tree fall did of course send a lot of sediment downstream and will lead to more erosion as the creek finds its way around the blockage, but the news is not all bad. The flood plain is a dynamic place, and changes bring opportunity. For example, the creek’s naturally-reproducing brown trout now have a new set of eddies and backwaters where they can hold comfortably and pick over the food carried in the faster currents. If trouble comes (eg a visit from one of our majestic great blue herons or energetic belted kingfishers), the trout can instantly dart under cover.

But there are other forces that may tempt the trout into the open. A little downstream of the tree fall we photographed Preserve neighbor and long time stalwart Conservancy volunteer, Dennis Nackord, casting his fly. “The creek has changed a lot over the decades, said Dennis.

“Conditions are perfect right now”. He is one of many avid fishermen/women who treasure the state-designated (and Conservancy-protected!) Exceptional Value creek so close to dense development.

Dennis not only enjoys the rich habitat and beauty of the Preserve, he also maintains the trail leading to and around the warm-season grass meadow in the center of the Preserve. The wide mowed trail allows visitors of all interests and abilities the opportunity for a country walk to enjoy the Preserve, its flora and fauna, and its vistas up to Diamond Rock hill.

So, if you are an early riser in Valley Creek Preserve and come across Dennis mowing the trails or casting for trout, please say “Hi!” and pass on your appreciation for his years of care for the Preserve.

Spring and Summer Sightings in the Preserves

The Conservancy wildlife camera and Preserve visitors have captured a number of spring and summer denizens of the Preserves, shown in the attached photographs.

The camera was set up during the winter by a creekside trail in Valley Creek Preserve to capture the comings and goings of the pair of beavers that built a lodge on the bank of the creek further downstream. The beavers seemed to have moved on now, but were very busy during springtime nights cutting down and moving some large trees.

In recent days the camera has caught some daytime activity. Shown here are a pair of whitetail deer fawns and their mother, a good-looking great blue heron and a pair of foxes. The younger fawn nestled in the woods in the other photo was found by OLC Director and Valley Creek Preserve neighbor Art Blumenthal. Mom was probably off feeding and hoping that if anyone found the fawn it was not the coyote that was seen this spring making off with a groundhog!

Finally, Mac Wilson and Ray Clarke were inspecting a section of Diamond Rock Preserve and found what looked like fresh blood on some fallen logs. Closer inspection suggested that the bright red growth is a fungus, although a cursory internet search has not revealed its identity.

Can any readers help us out? Fill out a comment if you can!

Volunteers Fix Flood Damaged Tree Plantings

2019 rainfall has continued last year’s torrid pace, culminating in a three and a half inch downpour in a few hours on June 20 th . On top of saturated ground, the perfect conditions for a flash flood. Valley Creek at the USGS gauge in Valley Forge Park rose from less than 4 feet to nearly 13 feet, 7 feet above flood stage. That flood water tore through our riparian tree plantings in Valley Creek and Cedar Hollow Preserves and we feared the worst.

It turned out that the trees held up pretty well – testament to the excellent planting and ongoing routine maintenance by Conservancy volunteers. Many trees were leaning or flat – see the photo of Valley Creek after the flood - but roots were mostly intact. However, it was definitely time for emergency response teams to resurrect the fallen and ensure their survival.

The smaller planting in Valley Creek Preserve was an easier task. Preserve Manager Ray Clarke checked just about all the trees; most are well out of their protective tubes and could be made vertical again with work on stakes and tubes.

The 750 trees planted in Cedar Hollow just two years ago were a larger challenge. Preserve Manager Tim Magee assembled a team with stalwart volunteers Bruce and Steve Shock, along with Ray Clarke (showing off their work in the photo taken by Preserve enthusiast Elizabeth Potter). They started at 7am and worked non- stop for five hours to beat the heat. A higher percentage of those trees were vertical, but about one in seven had not become established. About 100 tubes and stakes were removed (and taken to the OLC office for storage) and all surviving trees were returned to vertical – with a small number retrieved and replanted. Both areas are now in excellent shape, as shown in the photos. One remarkable observation is the proliferation of vegetation. Both these areas were previously a monoculture of the invasive Phragmites grass; now it seems there are enough wetland herbaceous species to warrant a new vegetation survey!

The Conservancy is grateful for all its volunteers, who do so much to sustain our precious open space and make it accessible for visitors to enjoy.

Volunteers Renovate Cedar Hollow Run Bridge

Visitors to Cedar Hollow Preserve will now can now complete the loop along Valley Creek and Cedar Hollow Run with greater security thanks to the hard work and skill of champion OLC volunteers Greg Sprissler, Bruce Shock and Steve Shock.  They teamed up with Preserve Manager Tim Magee and OLC VP Ray Clarke to replace one of the joists supporting the bridge over Cedar Hollow Run at its confluence with Valley Creek.

The bridge was built by Eagle Scout Jack Fields in 2010.  It consists of three 24 foot beams braced underneath and held together by the planks that form the top walking surface.  The bridge is shaded and subject to periodic flooding, so the beams and planks, even though pressure treated, are subject to rot.  The upstream joist was replaced a few years ago, and this year it was the turn of the center joist and a number of the top planks.

The team built the joists on site from 16 foot and 8 foot lengths of 2x10 beams they hauled down to the site.  The photographs show the team with the assembled joist on top of the bridge, and then, after the planks were removed, resting on its side on the right outer joist ready to be installed in place of the deteriorated joist on the left.  Tim and his hatchet were called into service to ensure a level surface for the back and knee-breaking work of installing the top boards.

The final photos show Greg, Tim and Ray with the finished bridge, looking as though they did all the work themselves, although it literally could not have been completed without the full team!

The Conservancy is grateful for all its volunteers, who do so much to sustain our precious open space and make it accessible for visitors to enjoy.

Americorps Team Restores Cedar Hollow Trail

Visitors to Cedar Hollow Preserve will have a much easier time hiking the loop trail along Valley Creek and Cedar Hollow Run thanks to the efforts of a hardworking team of Americorps volunteers on April 20th.

Last year's rains had soaked the ground where the trail runs through the woods from the iconic sycamore tree to Valley Creek, leaving a slippery and unpleasant stretch of mud and muck.  Preserve Manager Tim Magee envisioned and tested a solution: raise and restore the trail by relocating gravel from stormwater sediment in the Preserve upstream of the trail.  His pilot showed promise, but left us with the problem: how to move all that gravel and dirt?

To the rescue: Conservancy friend Kate Jensen who is managing a team of Americorps members at Valley Forge Park.  The team looks for opportunities outside their regular work to volunteer their free time for community organizations and Kate made the connection for us.  It turned out to be a perfect project: a combination of the young backs and energy from Americorps and great planning by Tim, so that everyone was focused and effective. Tim estimates that the team shoveled and moved by wheelbarrow at least three cubic yards of material.

The two wettest sections of that part of the trail should now drain more effectively and allow for easier, less sloppy travel.  And it was really gratifying that one of the Preserve's most frequent visitors happened to walk by during the work-in-progress and relayed her appreciation to the team.  Thanks to all for this great collaboration!

Conservancy Meadows receive their "Spring Cleaning"

Recent visitors to three of OLC's Preserves will notice a dramatic change as the meadows in Lorimer, Cool Valley and Cedar Hollow received their annual mowing on April 18th and 19th.  Mowing is an important component of our Preserve management plans.  It controls woody invasive vegetation such as multi-flora rose, olive and honeysuckle and makes space for herbaceous perennials such as goldenrod, milkweed and the occasional joe pye weed that grace the meadows in the summer.

Our neighbors in Valley Forge Park have been using prescribed fire in their meadows.  While that is an appealing natural process, it requires expensive professional expertise and is not a solution for the small Conservancy meadows, hemmed in by residences and woodlands.

So we rely on neighbors and professionals to mow the meadows in early Spring.  Although we have received excellent service from our contractor Lentzcaping in recent years, this year we found a supplier, All Seasons Landscaping of Acton, with equipment that is both voracious and speedy.  All Seasons clears roadside vegetation for PennDoT during the summer, and the side and rear flail mowers attached to a tractor make quick work of our meadows, too.

The only challenge came in the unusually wet south meadow in the Cedar Hollow Preserve.  The tractor proved too heavy for the saturated ground at the lowest point and had to be pulled from the mud by a tracked skid steer.  This was clearly not this first hiccup for long time All Seasons employee Bill Ruh, though. He was unfazed and finished both Cedar Hollow meadows as thoroughly and carefully as the others.

While All Seasons does the bulk of the Conservancy meadow mowing, we also recognize the service provided by long time neighbor Bud Coleman to mow the east Lorimer meadows and the contribution of neighbor and board member Art Blumenthal to the south meadow in Valley Creek Preserve.  Many thanks to all involved and to the members that make this possible!