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A creek runs through it

Support for restoring Grass Valley’s Wolf Creek to its pristine glory is picking up momentum. First came the formation of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance, then the recent appropriation of funds by the Grass Valley City Council. Now the water itself is being monitored for its health.

The water quality program began with a first class to train volunteers on July 9 at Glen Jones Park (behind the North Star Mining Museum) in Grass Valley. Nineteen people showed up for a five-hour science show-and-tell demonstration of what equipment they’ll be using over the next 15 months, but more are needed, says BJ Schmidt, head of volunteers of the organization.

Finding out what troubles the creek includes testing of 12 parameters, including temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, total dissolved solids, even arsenic from old mining runoff.



All this, says one of the trainers, Geri Stout, “is to establish a baseline (of water quality) to see if in future years things are changing” – for the better, supporters of the creek hope.

Says Mike McDonald, community spokesperson of Wolf Creek group, “We hope that once again the creek will be safe for fishing, wildlife, and swimming.”




Learning how to take water samples from the middle of the creek using a pole with a plastic bottle at the end takes dexterity and concentration on this first day of training as volunteers practice their technique. Meanwhile, a Alliance founder, Jonathan Keehn, demonstrates how to calibrate the $500 pH meter that volunteers will all be using with Stout explaining its importance: “We’re looking for a pH that’s healthy for life, one that’s slightly above or below 7 (on the acidity/alkalinity scale which stretches from battery acid at one end to bleach at the other).”

Families, as well as individuals, are volunteering as monitors. The Nys-Griffith family has shown up with 6-year-old daughter Delphine in tow.

Says Christine Nys, 43, “We live in Grass Valley and pass by Wolf Creek. We wanted to be more involved with local causes and definitely want to keep the creek clean.”

Local high school students are already well involved in this issue. Stout, a water chemistry teacher, has been bringing her students to sample creek water for years now in her “Adopt a Watershed” class, and she has some good news to report: “Already we are seeing certain readings going down because Grass Valley businesses are working to reduce pollutants.”

Ultimately, the hope is that the creek will be clean enough to support populations of water fowl, a variety of fish, even creek otters, according to Michael McDonald, who has property along the creek and is an avid fisherman himself. “I have a vision,” he says, “of ensuring that Wolf Creek becomes a healthy fishery.” He also foresees populations of herons, ducks, bats, and turtles “that only a healthy creek can support.”

The creek can become an even better outdoor laboratory for students to learn from, says McDonald, who has a son in first grade in the Grass Valley Charter School. “This year they did a study on frog eggs, that turned into tadpoles which they raised into little frogs. It’s giving them an appreciation and respect, even awe, for nature right here in downtown.”

While it’s obvious, supporters say, that this will be good for wildlife habitat and for recreation, they claim it will also benefit Grass Valley businesses. “Imagine,” says McDonald, “hanging out downtown, maybe listening to music in an amphitheater near the creek, having a picnic, then going for some ice cream or wine tasting. Now people go downtown to get what they need and leave. The creek would encourage people to spend some real time here, and that would benefit business.”

That, he concedes, would entail uncovering the creek where it’s been hidden by asphalt and diverted into culverts, a move that is controversial.

“Wolf Creek,” he says, “is part of our legacy to our children and grandchildren. We have a wonderful opportunity here for the community to come together for a common good; to get to know each other, create authentic relationships, and in the process be good stewards for a wonderful natural resource that runs through our town.”

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Pam Jung is a freelance writer for The Union. She can be reached at 265-8064.

Monitors still needed

The Wolf Creek monitoring program is funded by an EPA grant received through Sierra Nevada Alliance (a regional watershed group based in Lake Tahoe).

Fifteen sites, both on the creek itself and on important tributaries, will be monitored for 15 months.

Results are to be reviewed by a local and state technical review committee. Once approved, they will be available on the Internet, says BJ Schmidt. (Stay tuned.)

More water volunteers are needed. A new training class begins Aug. 21. Contact BJ Schmidt, volunteer coordinator, at 477-7402.

For more on this 501(C)3 organization, go to http://www.wolfcreek alliance.org or call Michael McDonald at 477-5226.


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