The 1,000-acre Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve encompasses a mixture of wetlands and streamside forests. Here, humble coldwater springs and streams emerge, forming the nourishing capillaries that are the lifeblood of Big Darby Creek’s permanent flow downstream.
These headwaters are fed by a complex of underground seeps, which contribute millions of gallons of clean, cold water to tributary streams of nearby Big Darby Creek.
These headwater streams—and the floodplains, forests and wetlands around them—are important not only for their influence on water quality and hydrology in the Big Darby, but also because they provide important habitat for plants and animals.
But this natural treasure faces many threats, including pollution from nearby development, as well as man-made changes to natural stream flows and habitat destruction.
What You’ll See
Flora and fauna surveys of the headwaters region that supports Big Darby Creek have found such species as central mottled sculpin, southern redbelly dace and least brook lamprey, which are indicators of good stream health.
Wetlands in the area support such plant species as marsh marigold, skunk cabbage, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit and cottonwood and, along with the surrounding forests, sustain wild turkey, eastern screech owls and great crested flycatchers.
Current Conservation Work
The Nature Conservancy and its partners have been working to protect the Big Darby headwaters through land acquisition, education and restoration efforts.
- In 2019, a new nature play area was installed to provide young visitors with an opportunity for the kind of outdoors, make-it-up-as-you-go play that is important for children—and the planet. Visitors to the preserve will find a space “furnished” with elements such as various-sized sticks and logs, tree cookies, rocks and boulders, and a rudimentary mud kitchen with old cast iron skillets.
- In spring of 2012, an expanded trail opens to the public. Visitors may now traverse 2.5 miles of the preserve and view the restoration site from a scenic overlook.
- In the spring of 2008, the Conservancy opened Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve to the public. The preserve features a handicap-accessible trail and interpretive signage showcasing the importance of the headwaters to people and wildlife.
- In the spring of 2007, the Conservancy launched an impressive project to restore the headwaters of Big Darby Creek to re-create its natural meandering flow. The project, completed in 2011, helped to reverse decades of channel modifications made for farm drainage and highway construction.
- In 2006, TNC strongly supported and influenced the Big Darby Accord, a partnership between jurisdictions within the watershed to cooperatively develop a plan to preserve and protect the Big Darby Creek and its tributaries.
- Since 1999, the Conservancy has acquired over 900 acres of the floodplain forests, wetlands and prairies that comprise Big Darby’s headwaters. Purchased from willing sellers, these lands represent the foundation of the Conservancy’s larger conservation vision for the area.