Darby Creek Advocate Volume 10, Issue 1  March 2002

News From the Watershed

Wildlife refuge officially dead

Almost five years after its inception, the proposal to create a national wildlife refuge in the Little Darby Creek watershed is being withdrawn by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the proposal, which stirred controversy in the region, the federal government would have purchased land or easements from willing sellers in an almost 50,000-acre planning zone along Little Darby and Spring Fork in Madison and Union counties. The stated goals of the refuge were to protect water resources, to create habitat for migratory birds, the recreate native tallgrass prairie, and to preserve farmland.

Most farmers opposed the refuge because they saw it as a threat to their traditional agricultural economy and culture. Many feared a secret agenda to confiscate land.

Most environmentalists, including DCA trustees, supported the proposal because offered a voluntary way to substantially improve water quality in Little Darby. DCA saw the refuge as providing landowners with an economically viable alternative to selling their land to developers.

During the debate both sides supported the need for preserving Darby. Hopefully this shared goal will prevail in future efforts to improve conservation in the watershed.

Prairie Oaks planning moving ahead

If you have driven U.S. Route 42 in Madison County recently you may have been puzzled by a newly built structure occupying a lonely spot in the middle of an old cornfield overlooking Big Darby Creek.

This strange building is not a new home or a vacation retreat. It is a new restroom for Prairie Oaks, Metro Parks’ newest venture into the Darby watershed.

At a recent Metro Parks meeting, park officials unveiled a draft map showing how the park may develop in the next few years. The park will have many miles of nature trails, as well as a relatively new feature for the park district—8 miles of equestrian trails.

According to park planners, horse trails are part of the district’s efforts to fit into the rural and agricultural character of eastern Madison and western Franklin counties.

Prairie Oak’s most unique feature, if it proves feasible, will be a small buffalo herd.

The park will also likely offer canoe access. The park will also feature more traditional elements, such as picnic tables and shelter houses. A nature center is tentatively planned as well.

ODNR acquires key Little Darby flood plain near West Jefferson

John Blatter has had an interesting last couple of decades living on his truck farm along Little Darby Creek just east of West Jefferson.

In 1988 Blatter ignited a firestorm of complaints when he rechanneled a section of Little Darby Creek in an unfortunate effort to combat erosion and supply his farm with water during a drought. The diversion resulted in the drying up of a series of pools and riffles along the state scenic river. The destroyed section
was famous among biologists for its dense mussel concentration. Blatter did not have a permit for the work, and the Army Corps of Engineers made him restore the water flow to the creek’s original channel.

At the time Blatter admitted to a degree of naivete in trying to reengineer the stream. “I can see what I did wrong,” he was quoted as saying in the Columbus Dispatch. “I aggravated the problem I tried to correct, and I disturbed the wildlife.”

Fourteen years later, Blatter and his wife Carol have decided to sell the majority of their property—55 acres—to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources so that it can revert to a more natural state, according to the Madison Press. The Blatters will retain the house and seven acres on the property.

Blatter told the Press that his goal was to see the property return to the way it was 250 years ago. An experienced farmer, he offered to help plant trees on the property. The Blatter farm is just north of U.S. Route 40 along Little Darby’s east bank. Because the parcel is flood plain, it is key to buffering Little Darby from stormwater runoff. The purchase may also buffer the creek from future development in the area.

Funds for the purchase will eventually come from the Ohio Department of Transportation as compensation for its controversial rechannelization of a segment of Big Darby Creek in Logan County several years ago.

Franklin Soil and Water gets more money for Hellbranch restoration

The Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District already had been awarded federal and state dollars to pursue restoration projects in the troubled Hellbranch watershed in western Franklin County.

Thus it was icing on the cake when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently pitched in an additional $150,000 for the work.

Projects will include cost-sharing for streamside buffers , acquisitions for conservation easements, and incentives for conservation on agricultural properties. The effort will also have an education component.

If you live along Hellbranch or one of its tributaries and are interested in improving your land, contact Hector Santiago at 614-801-9450, ext. 14, for more information.

Two endangered species added to Darby list

When Dr. G Thomas Watters recently added a new mussel species to the lengthy Darby list, he didn’t find the animal while splashing around in Darby Creek. He found it on a shelf in a museum.

Watters is the new mollusk curator at the Ohio State Museum of Biological Diversity, and while rearranging some collections he discovered a previously uncatalogued specimen of the Ohio pigtoe, a first for Darby. The animal had been collected in Big Darby back in the 1960’s. The specimen was collected live and identified by Dr. David H. Stansbery, the former curator.

The Ohio pigtoe is considered a large river species. It was once common in the Scioto River south of Big Darby’s mouth at Circleville, but it has probably been eliminated from that river due to pollution.

Today, the nearest known population is in the Ohio River. The species is on Ohio’s endangered species list.

Watters also added the longsolid mussel to the Darby list when he found a very old shell in Pickaway County. Biologists had long suspected that the species would be found in Darby because the longsolid was once extremely common in the neighboring Scioto. Unfortunately, the species has completely vanished from the Scioto, and undoubtedly from Darby as well. This species is also an Ohio endangered species, and is probably now limited to the lower Muskingum River.

The site in Pickaway County where both specimens were found has long been known as the most diverse location on Darby. In fact, with records of 40 species, a strong argument can be made that the site once supported the most diverse mussel fauna of any medium-sized stream in the world. Unfortunately the site has deteriorated dramatically in the last few decades. Suspected problems include poorly treated sewage, agricultural runoff, and increasing stormwater flows from upstream developments.

In other mussel news, a first record was recently made for Little Darby Creek when a young fragile papershell was found several miles upstream from Little Darby’s mouth.

Though the species is not rare in larger streams, the discovery is significant. Since 1990, when a low-head dam was removed from Little Darby’s mouth, biologists have been watching to see if species from Big Darby would reenter its tributary. The fragile papershell is the second new mussel found since
the dam was removed. In addition, at least two fish species—the Ohio threatened bluebreast and Tippecanoe darters—have moved into Little Darby as far upstream as West Jefferson.

Factory farms may be headed for Little Darby

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed creating a wildlife refuge in the Little Darby headwaters, a key property was a 5,185-acre tract owned by a corporate partnership.

Now, that partnership has sold the tract to a national dairy operation, bringing the prospect of large-scale dairies along Spring Fork and other tributaries in Madison County.

The Madison Press reports that the dairy company, Vebra-Hoff Dairy Development, typically sponsors diaries that “hover just under 700 cattle.” If a farm operates with more than 700 cows in Ohio it faces regulation by the Ohio EPA. If the company decides to operate below the 700 threshold, it faces only
Department of Agriculture supervision. Press reporter Mac Cordell estimates that the tract in question could be split into several individual farms, each with just under 700 cows.

A spokesman for the company stated that they use engineers to insure compliance with environmental regulations, especially manure management, according to the article. The spokesman also admitted that the company has had some problems, including contamination of drinking water.

“Darby Vision” new name for watershed planning effort

As far as names go, the “Darby Creek Watershed Project” never really had a ring to it. Now this cumbersome title for the six-county effort to craft a watershed protection plan has been replaced with the more enigmatic “Darby Vision.”

With the term “vision,” stakeholders hope to communicate the group’s determination to look to the future and their commitment to preserving the watershed’s natural and cultural heritage. The group is currently working toward initial public meetings later this year. The group has also been gathering information on existing plans and studies in preparation for their own plan.

by John Tetzloff