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A new life for Monocacy Creek

December 06, 2017 02:00 PM

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​​Monocacy Creek before restorationIt’s OUT with the railroad ties and IN with the rocks and natural flow of the stream!

That’s the new life for Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem.

For nearly 40 years, old railroad ties embedded into the creek’s banks controlled erosion and limited the amount of sediment that had accumulated. Those ties also acted as barriers to channel the flow of the stream.

The idea was that the wooden structures would stabilize the stream bank and control erosion. It did. For a while. However, by late 2015, erosion began and the creek started to suffer. The water muddied, and the stream bank began to fall.

Staff at the Wildlands Conservancy, a Lehigh Valley-based conservation organization, felt the railroad ties were not good for the health of the stream and the fish and other habitat that relied on it for survival.

They had a plan to rebuild and renew the stream. But the project needed funding.

Enter DEP’s Growing Greener Grant Program. Ron Yablonsky, water quality specialist in DEP’s Northeast Regional Office, reviewed the proposal by Wildlands to remove the railroad ties and other dam structures on the creek. The plan was to replace the ties with rock to ease the flow and create a natural channel. This would also help to create a deeper body of water so fish can have more oxygen, and migrate. Other work involved removing old dams and replacing them with modern V-shaped rock structures that span the width of the stream.

Monocacy Creek after restorationYablonsky, now retired, felt the plan would improve the overall quality of the stream and make it make it more appealing for fisherman and other recreational uses.

“This stream restoration project would not only enhance the quality of aquatic life, but protect it as well, and make the stream flow in a more natural state,” said Yablonsky.

In the summer of 2016, DEP awarded Wildlands Conservancy a $55,000 Growing Greener Grant for the project. Work began in the fall of that year and continued throughout the year.

Large machinery moved in, and the railroad ties were ripped from the banks. Old structures on the stream were also dismantled. The creek sediment was removed.

One highlight of the project was the installation of several fish hatcheries along the stream. Those structures provided an area where fish can grow and be released, creating more opportunities for fisherman to catch fish during the season.

The creek bank also now has a more natural cover: a coconut fiber mat designed by the Conservancy. Over the years, the mat will naturally decompose once vegetation takes root to keep the newly created bank in place.

“It’s a more natural creek now,” said Yablonsky. “The fish can flow more freely and the banks are stronger and will only get stronger. It is what nature intended.”​​​

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