Don Pelton: Wolf Creek Community Alliance, from vision to action |

Don Pelton: Wolf Creek Community Alliance, from vision to action

Other Voices
Don Pelton

One day in the fall of 2002, local contractor Jonathan Keehn had an unforgettable experience while walking along a stretch of Wolf Creek in downtown Grass Valley.

He described that experience a couple of months later in an influential article for The Union: “I was walking along the creek behind the Safeway and came across a great blue heron standing knee-deep facing upstream, obviously fishing. After eyeing me for a few moments, she took off. A few wing flaps brought her over the freeway as she headed down toward French Ravine.”

Reminiscing years later about the founding of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance, two of the founding members said that it was Jonathan’s original article that inspired them to join with him to create the environmental nonprofit, dedicated to “preserving and protecting Wolf Creek and its watershed for the benefit of present and future generations.”

In the early months of 2003, the founding group met frequently to talk about the alarming threats to water quality in creeks and streams in the Wolf Creek watershed, and about how a small group of local citizens could enlist community support to restore Wolf Creek. The Wolf Creek Community Alliance wasn’t just another environmental nonprofit, it was becoming a community of like-minded souls.

The Wolf Creek Community Alliance wasn’t just another environmental nonprofit, it was becoming a community of like-minded souls.

Wolf Creek is a major tributary to the Bear River; it is 20-plus miles long, and its watershed encompasses about 78 square miles from the slopes of Banner Mountain to its confluence with the Bear. Within the watershed, population and land uses vary widely so that the interacting streams range from highly degraded and urbanized to relatively wild. Because of the elevation, sun exposure, and variety of soils, the watershed once supported very productive and diverse ecosystems. But today, water and soil contamination persists from past mining and logging.

Development has led to increasing deforestation, impermeable surfaces, erosion, and increased water usage. Setbacks and riparian corridors for the creek have not been consistently maintained. Portions of Wolf Creek have been diverted into culverts and paved over. Periodic accidents at Grass Valley’s wastewater treatment plant spill sewage into the creek. Winter rains wash contaminants into the creek. The urban and mining-waste effluents that enter Wolf Creek and its tributaries in and around Grass Valley affect downstream farmers who use irrigation water that comes from Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act due to bacteria levels.

What has the all-volunteer alliance accomplished since its founding 15 years ago?

Water quality monitoring: Since 2005, Wolf Creek Community Alliance volunteers have been monitoring water quality at sentinel sites on Wolf Creek and some of its tributaries. The scientific data collected helps to identify and address problems, disturbances, and contamination affecting the health of our watershed and that of all of its human and wild inhabitants.

Education and outreach: Alliance volunteers work to increase community understanding of water quality problems in the watershed by tabling at local events, and producing brochures, videos, maps and an informative website (

Restoration and stewardship: Alliance volunteers lead Stewardship Days to remove nonnative invasive vegetation and plant stabilizing native plants along creek banks on public lands, advocate for creek-friendly development and trails, and are available to consult with creekside residents who have questions concerning stream stewardship. Volunteers worked with city officials to adopt Grass Valley’s first riparian set-back regulations, and were instrumental in the development of the Wolf Creek Parkway conceptual plan for a connecting system of walking and biking trails along Wolf Creek through Grass Valley. In partnership with American Rivers and the City of Grass Valley, the Alliance is helping to restore a reach of Peabody Creek, a tributary of Wolf Creek that flows through Condon Park.

Watershed assessment and planning: In 2017, in partnership with Sierra Streams Institute, the Alliance began work on a three-phase pre-restoration assessment of conditions throughout the Wolf Creek watershed including land use, land cover, hydrology from historical and current perspectives, and abandoned mine sites.

How you can help: “Round up” when you shop at BriarPatch. During the month of February, Wolf Creek Community Alliance is the BriarPatch “Co-op Cause” of the month.

Don Pelton lives in Grass Valley.

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