Lessons from Nathanson Creek
On Sunday morning, as a persistent rain filtered through the gnarled arms of the massive heritage oaks at the top of the Nathanson Creek Preserve, the melody of running water drifted through the still air, punctuated by bird song and the rhythm of raindrops.
On one bank, a western bluebird flitted through wet leaves and settled on a wooden post, cocking its head left and right as if nodding in approval.
The creek, renewed by the incongruous rainfall to a level of flow unusual for the month of June, slid through a tunnel of bay laurel and under the bridge connecting the high school to the playing fields on the other side.
You could stand on that bridge and look upstream or downstream without seeing more than two or three pieces of litter, and the water running by was clear and clean. A couple with a golden retriever walked along the footpath, smiling in the rain.
Standing there, it was easy to forget that a decade earlier a very different view greeted anyone with the interest or the vision to look. Ten years ago, at that spot, Nathanson Creek was clogged with trash. Paper cups and soft drink cans, plastic bags, soda straws, Styrofoam containers, orange peels, even old shoes, scraps of clothing, chunks of cement and the occasional shopping cart could be found in the streambed.
It looked like a place no one cared about, a place everyone ignored and the tangle of invasive plants that covered its banks and choked the flow hid more of the mess from view.
That has all clearly changed, and as Richard Dale's column confirms on this page, the change began with one woman's vision, was embraced by the whole community and was brought to life through a complex, multi-party collaboration that demonstrates what can happen when people work together toward a common goal.
Ten years ago it was hard for most people to imagine an effort that could successfully restore the creek and construct a linear park extending from East MacArthur Street to Napa Road. Most of us would not have known where to start and what was possible. The creek corridor seemed condemned by its own neglected, abandoned and abused condition.
But committed people unraveled the riddle of creek restoration and slowly, step-by-step, something new emerged from the old mess. Now there are tranquil pocket parks, interpretive displays, strategically placed benches, a creekside bike path and a visible creek, healthy and clear enough for steelhead trout and Chinook salmon to pass through on their way upstream to spawn.
What made all this happen was a clear vision, a good plan, willing partners, some state and local funding and an enormous amount of volunteer labor and materials. We'd like to think that what happened on Nathanson Creek could happen anywhere in the Valley where people see a need and decide to fill it.
If we could harness the same kind of focus and collaboration that restored Nathanson Creek to build and maintain a community swimming pool, it would happen. That effort has been underway for a long time, but perhaps Nathanson Creek can provid additional inspiration.