Big Darby Headwaters Preserve
Discover The Nature Conservancy's Big Darby Headwaters Preserve with Ohio freshwater specialist Anthony Sasson.
Anthony Sasson, freshwater conservation coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio
By Jessica Keith
Just a few miles from the forested banks of Big Darby Creek, trucks and bulldozers are tearing up the earth to build more than 200 new homes for suburban Columbus families.
With thousands more homes and shops proposed, all this construction could severely degrade of one of the Midwest’s most biologically diverse streams.
But in an effort to protect the stream and its inhabitants, The Nature Conservancy in Ohio has launched the Big Darby Creek Headwaters Restoration Project — to re-establish streamside habitat in this stressed watershed of the Lower Scioto River Basin.
“We expect this restoration to make a measurable improvement in the creek’s water quality,” says Anthony Sasson, the Conservancy's freshwater conservation oordinator in Ohio.
The effort will reverse years of damage caused by the straightening and dredging of the stream during the development of farms, highways and homes. That’s good news for the abundance of species that call Big Darby Creek home.
“It’s incredible,” Sasson says of the creek’s diversity. “About 100 species of fish and more than 40 types of mussels live in these waters. That’s very unusual for a stream of its size.”
Centuries of clean, clear water cutting through glacial debris have crafted the bends, pools, and riffles which worked to create the threatened Big Darby Creek and its tributaries.
These water features, along with the wetlands and forests surrounding the creek’s banks, have come together to form an ideal habitat which supports a rich assortment of species, including many that are rare or endangered.
And while most visitors will never see the northern riffleshell mussel or the tiny, rock-dwelling darter fish, Big Darby Creek also boasts smallmouth bass and other popular game fish, and provides a source of clean water to communities downstream.
As a tributary to the Scioto River, Big Darby Creek is also part of a larger watershed, one that provides drinking water for tens of thousands of Ohioans south of Columbus.
“Whatever is done upstream is felt downstream,” explains Sasson. “Modifications within the headwaters of Big Darby Creek, whether good or bad, will influence the quality of water miles away.”
By protecting the stream at its source, the Conservancy is helping to abate pollution from farms and development, thereby offering a healthier contribution of water as it flows into the Scioto.
The headwaters of Big Darby Creek are modest in size, comprised of a tangle of gently flowing waters that are fed by ground water through a complex of underground seeps.
These seeps — literally areas where water seeps out of the ground — contribute millions of gallons of clean, cold water to tributary streams of the nearby Big Darby Creek.
And the headwaters — together with the floodplains, forests and wetlands around them — provide critical habitat for such species as marsh marigold and cottonwood trees, as well as wild turkey and Eastern screech owls.
Nature lovers can discover the headwaters for themselves at the Conservancy's Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve.
Jessica Keith is a conservation writer with The Nature Conservancy
February 16, 2011