For many, good government describes a system that extends personal liberties. Others see good government as creating economic opportunity, a system that creates the conditions that support personal prosperity But what about government that protects property? What about government that improves the quality of life? What about government that restores the environment and saves the Bay?
You’ll find that kind of good government at Mud Creek in East Patchogue. Thanks to a partnership between the County and the Town of Brookhaven, 7 of 30 acres of a collection of duck farms has been transformed into a functional creek and wetland. These duck farms have spewed pollutants into the Bay for decades. Soon, a woodland forest with 2,000 trees and 3000 shrubs, bushes and grasses will be planted!
This $4 million dollar ecological restoration is the dream and brainchild of Suffolk County Director Dr. Dewitt Davies. DeWitt conceptualized of the environmental restoration in 2011. While Dr. Davies had to wait until retirement to see it happen, his dream is now coming to life!
The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation conducted a feasibility study last decade. County Executive Bellone then shepherded the purchase of the property. “This project will restore the stream’s normal pattern” and eradicate “a host of invasive plant life,” former Legislature Robert Calarco said at the time. Calarco is now a regional leader with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
A half-mile long (2,300 feet) creek has been reclaimed. The duck waste (20 ft. deep!) that clogged the creek for decades was removed, dried out and carted off; fresh water has been washing over that muck for decades, carrying excess nitrates with it into the Bay. Huge swaths of phragmites (an invasive plant that’s swallowed much of our once rich coastal habitat) have been removed as well. In its place will be 2000 hardwood trees among them oaks, the alpha of trees; another 3,000 shrubs, bushes and beach grasses are also being planted. Eventually trout, who are holding on, will swim and spawn.
It’s becoming a Garden of Eden. A few weeks ago, I saw two huge (3-foot around) snapping turtles swimming in the stream. Both dove under tree roots submerged in the creek. Then a long-legged frog darted across the water. It’s the first frog I’ve seen in some time. Imagine what we’ll see after the forest is replanted! You can see what’s taking shape in my friend, nature photographer and drone operator, Stephen Borghardt’s pictures and drone footage.
Here are the key facts related to the feasibility study:
- Restored groundwater stream and 6.7 acre forested floodplain
- Recreating this wetland mitigates against flooding, an issue that’s worsening with rising sea levels
- Stream will restore a high quality habitat for fish and wildlife, including brook trout
- The topography will be textured to create spring pools and tributary channels, vernal pools, and floodplain scrapes and mounds
- New features promote plant and wildlife diversity and improve the complexity of aquatic and terrestrial habitat
- The constructed stream channel (approximately 6-12 feet in width) will be well-connected to groundwater and on-site plant life
- Downed trees are anchored in the stream channel to enhance habitat, creating overhead cover for stream life, deeper pools for adult fish and shallow water for juveniles
- Phragmites are being replaced by a dense planting of over 2,000 native trees, 3000 shrubs/grasses and a native wetland grass/wildflower seed mix to promote a dense floodplain
- The restored wetland provides habitat for snakes, lizards, ducks, all manner of song birds and small mammals.
- Boarded walking paths will offer residents a window into a robust ecosystem
The Nation’s First Suburb
As the nation’s first suburb, the nation learned from Long Island’s mistakes. There are many! Starting in the 1960s (probably earlier), we built entire communities without first developing a plan to treat our wastewater. That’s how we killed our thriving clamming industry. We failed to create enough parks for healthy living. We also failed to promote bicycle and pedestrian corridors for our downtowns, which is good for business and public health.
But nature is resilient. We see that in the survival of a native brook trout species. This species has survived around Mud Creek despite decades of polluting. It’s the only known heritage population on Long Island. It’s not too late at Mud Creek and for all of us.
Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven should take a bow for being faithful stewards. Long Islanders need the outdoors. It’s essential to public health. We moved here for clean air, clean water and wild life.
The Creek Defenders
A group of us in Save the Great South are adherents of something called the Creek Defender. We believe the key to saving the Bay is restoring our creeks. We call ourselves Creek Defenders. We have one Defender in each town, from Massapequa to Mastic. Each accepts responsibility for healing the creeks in our own communities. The Town and County just took our model to another level!
Do we want a pond 20 ft thick of duck waste? Or do we want native trout swimming upstream to spawn? Don’t we want pre-historic looking turtles swimming in waters so clean you can bathe in them?!
If we can reclaim and enjoy nature at Mud Creek, why can’t see do the same elsewhere? Why can’t all of Save the Great South Bay’s Creek Defenders lead projects like that in our communities?
Like the old truism, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Mud Creek is that first step. It’s a big one! It’s the type of step that offers a window to a better future. Now that we see what that future can look like, it’s time to go for it! Just like we’re doing at Mud Creek!
This article was written by James Bertsch, Save the Great South Bay – Sayville Creek Defender.
Additional previous articles on this subject can be found here: