The Morehead News

Local News

May 13, 2011

Triplett Creek in View: Triplett Creek Watershed

May 13, 2011 —     It’s easy to underestimate the significance and importance of Triplett Creek if you’re fishing at Don Greenhill City Park or viewing it from along KY 519. 

    In reality, the creek is nested in a vast and vital ecosystem. 

    The Triplett Creek watershed comprises about 65 percent or 180 square miles of Rowan County. Most of the watershed lies within the Daniel Boone National Forest.

    The watershed is fed by several tributaries, including Christy Creek, Dry Creek and North Fork of Triplett Creek, all of which flow into what we see streaming through Morehead.

    “Watersheds can range from small to large,” said Dr. Christine McMichael, a member of the Triplett Creek Watershed-based Plan committee.

    “If you pick any point in a stream, all of the land that feeds that water into the stream is the watershed,” McMichael added.

    A watershed is an area of land that contains a network of creeks and streams that drain into a larger body of water. High points and ridgelines define its range.

    Rainfall and snowmelt are channeled into the soil, creeks and streams, and pass through to other watersheds.

    Triplett Creek is a sub-watershed of the Licking River watershed, which is a sub-watershed of the Ohio River watershed, which is a sub-watershed of the Mississippi River.

    Dr. Steven Reid, another member of the watershed committee, said some need only look in their yards to locate themselves within a watershed.

    “Locally, the creek that runs through your yard, like Evans Branch, is a part of a watershed,” Reid said.

    Evans Branch runs though portions of Wilson Avenue.

    The Triplett Creek watershed is home to an array of diverse flora and fauna, including some species unique to this region.

    “Triplett Creek does have better water quality in terms of fauna than many other streams in Eastern Kentucky,” said Steve Bonney, wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

    Though Triplett Creek is listed by the Kentucky Divison of Water as an impaired waterway, Bonney said a variety of species depend on and thrive therein.

    “It’s big enough to host fresh water muscles and other species typical for this area because of its quality,” Bonney said.

    The Indiana bat makes its home along the banks of Triplett Creek, as does the wood duck, a cavity-resting duck that nests in the roots of trees along streams.

    Bonney said there are several other species that live in and around Triplett Creek that he was reluctant identify for fear that people would deliberately seek to capture them.

    “There’s one species that’s rare enough that we don’t know where else it’s found. For some of our other species, we’ve had people coming from as far as California to try to obtain them,” he said.

    And yes, the rumor about a particularly special species of salamander living in Triplett Creek is true, but Fred Howes, also of the Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said that its name should not be published.

    “We want to protect these types of species,” Howes said.

    Howes is the point person for stocking Triplett Creek with rainbow trout and musky.  He also said that even though Triplett Creek water quality can improve, it’s better than other places.

    “We are blessed here because we don’t have industry that puts lots of pollutants into the soil and water,” Howes said. “Water is extremely important to every one of us.”    

    The Division of Fish and Wildlife stocks rainbow trout in three areas of Triplett Creek.

    “We stock about 750 fish, spread among the three spots in March, April, May and June,” Howes said.

    “We stock the main stem of Triplett at Greenhill Park and two places off Cranston Road on the North Fork of Triplett.

    “We go a little heavier in stocking near Greenhill Park because it’s a popular fishing area,” he added.

    Howes said the agency monitors the conditions of creeks and streams in the area. He said North Fork of Triplett Creek historically had the most diverse sampling of game fish than any other place in the state.

    The North Fork’s largely agrarian use could account for some of that diversity, though the ecology could change with anticipated residential and commercial development.

    That development is what concerns some, Howes said.

    “Development is good for our community, but it can be done responsibly to protect our water supply,” he said.

    One area in which residential and commercial developments should take care is the riparian zones around Triplett Creek.

    Riparian zones are essential elements of watershed integrity. The word “riparian” comes from the latin word “ripa” meaning river.

    These vegetation zones near creeks and streams support the healthy flow and function of waters like of Triplett Creek.

    Trees, roots, brush and grasses in the riparian zone stabilize banks and help water quality by rooting along banks and in floodplains, filtering chemicals that runoff from residences, businesses and construction sites in Rowan County.

    Trees along the creek help maintain cool water temperatures and both trees and plants provide food resources for the aquatic ecosystem through leaves, branches and insects.

    “It’s also important to leave buffer zones of trees and vegetation to slow runoff and allow it to absorb through the soil. That is a big key to improving water quality,” said McMichael.

    Done improperly and without sufficient regard to the ecosystem, creek bank clearing, cleaning and modification can further destabilize creekbanks, which worsens flooding problems.

    “Man alive! Dredging and removing trees and vegetation is one of the works things you can do,” Howes said.

    “What people have to understand is that flooding is natural. None of us think it’s a wonderful thing when people’s homes are flooded. But that’s the stream doing what it does and it’s risky to build in floodplains because of that.”

    “Look at the Mississippi River. They’ve dredged it, damned it and rechanneled it in places and look what it’s done in the last few days,” Bonney said.

    Still, it’s difficult for a property owner standing in knee deep waters in his front yard to prioritize environmental concerns over his own.

    Doug Keeton said his Clearfield Street home flooded several times, and believes Triplett Creek is the problem. Just after minor flooding in April, Keeton and his daughter, Tammy Caudill, drove along Triplett Street, their large truck following the contour of the road that runs parallel to the creek. He pointed to a sandbar that has emerged from accumulated sediment and debris.

    “This is the problem. The creek has so much of this, the water backs up and starts going in other directions,” Keeton said.

    “The city and the county aren’t doing much about it as far as I can tell,” he added.

    He said the costs associated with dredging and clean up and maintenance may be high, but not higher than the value of human life.

    “You can’t put a price on people’s lives and their welfare,” Keeton said.

    The property owner said he would be willing to pay increased taxes that would fund a major cleanup and regular maintenance afterward.

    “I wouldn’t mind paying more, if that money was specifically devoted to keeping the creek clean, and not for other city and county projects,” he said.

    Reid said the Triplett Creek watershed represents a good way to conceptualize shared resources and responsibilities.

    Triplett Creek cleaning and bank stabilization is often reduced to a political issue when it’s a community stakeholder issue as well, Reid said.

    “But our drinking water is contained in the watershed. It’s not political boundaries but natural boundaries that we have to protect,” he added.

    “That’s where best practices come in,” said April Haight of the Morehead State Environmental Education Center.

    “When we’re developing areas, do we leave strips of untilled area? Are we tilling with the contour of the land? How close can you get to the stream without entering the buffer zone? These are issues that must be addressed,” Haight said.

    The Kentucky Division of Water urges consumers to limit use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, maintain septic systems and dispose of hazardous waste properly instead of dumping into drains, storm drains or trash.

    The agency also recommends people help maintain natural riparian vegetation by planting native trees, shrubs and tall grasses and avoiding use of invasive, non-native plant species in landscaping.

    In the next article, we’ll take an historical look at Triplett Creek.

    Noelle Hunter can be reached at nhunter@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.

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