In praise of little creeks


By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Slate Run in a photo from the early 1990s.
Slate Run in a photo from the early 1990s.

We’re drawn to water. Some people like the ocean. Others like to sit by a calm lake. I like meandering creeks and streams.

I like how the water moves along in a creek flowing toward a destination, kind of like how people do with their own lives. Sometimes a creek is full of itself and floods out its banks, or runs shallow for a while, or cuts a new course, or is muddy at times and later clear –  just like people.

While I enjoy watching the bigger creeks in the area flow along – Blacklick, Alum, Big Walnut and Walnut – there are two small streams in the area I have a fondness for: Poplar Creek in Chestnut Ridge Metro Park and Slate Run in Slate Run Metro Park.

Poplar Creek trickles through the broad meadow of Chestnut Ridge. Two bridges along the trail pass over the stream and provide wonderful vantage points for looking at the creek and absorbing its sounds. Many times over the years I’ve stood on those bridges – sometimes alone, sometimes with people who were once close to me – and watched the creek flow by.

“It’s a pretty little creek,” said Metro Parks Hub Naturalist Scott Felker. “It provides a permanent water source for the park. I’ve never seen it dry up.”

Felker said Poplar Creek is spring fed in places and that at one time there was a farm springhouse nearby.

“Springs were a cleaner source of water for the farmers there at the time,” said Felker. “They could use the springhouse for drinking water and to keep food cool.”

Felker said Poplar Creek is good for the park’s habitat because it provides water year round for animals and that trees like sycamores, red maples, silver maples, and cottonwoods thrive near streams.

Poplar Creek appears silvery under a winter sun, framed by ice and snow. In spring the little creek’s flow is lively from rain and winter’s melting. On a hot August afternoon, Poplar Creek is languid and lazy. On an autumn day the fallen leaves in the creek brew the water into a dark tea.

Poplar Creek has a lovely sound. Its quiet trickling, as it flows over the rocks in its bed and as it softly churns away at its banks, combines with the breeze and the chirps of birds to make a pleasant natural song.

Slate Run is only around a foot deep and in summer can go dry in places. Whereas Poplar Creek is nestled among the hills of an open meadow where its sounds float in the air, Slate Run winds through rolling wooded hills giving it different acoustics than Poplar. The sounds of Slate Run’s trickling water flowing over and under fallen tree limbs, flat rocks, and soaked earth ring out in places and can be muted in other spots.

“Slate Run is a natural creek, formed by glaciers moving in and out of the area 10,000 to 15,000 years ago,” said Metro Parks Senior Naturalist Andrea Krava. “The glaciers pushed the rocks around and ice melt and moving water cut into the rocks, forming a ‘valley’ where water can flow.”

Krava said there is a lot of shale and some sandstone in the creek.

“The shale looks like gray or black thin layers, and some of it feels almost like clay,” said Krava. “There are some large sandstone pieces near the Natural Play Area in the park – they look like giant chunks of sand and look  different from the shale. Because shale forms in thin layers, and breaks into small pieces, that’s generally what people use to ‘skip’ rocks on creeks or ponds.”

Krava said Slate Run is actually named incorrectly and that it should be called “Shale Run” instead of Slate Run.

“Settlers to the area in the early 1800s were from the New England states, where slate (which looks similar to shale) was common. They identified the rocks as slate and called the creek Slate Run,” said Krava.

Krava the creek provides a good habitat for animals and plants in Slate Run Metro Park.

“The park is dominated by a nice forest, a wetland, and grasslands, as well as the developed areas like picnic areas, playgrounds, and the Living Historical Farm,” said Krava.  “Some animals and plants only live in creek areas, so having the creek provides a place for these things to live and grow. There is a plant called ‘horsetail’ or ‘scouring rush’ that lives  by the creek and nowhere else in the park.”

She said sycamore trees like to grow near creeks and are known as wildlife havens.

“Raccoons live in them, and a little bright yellow, black, and white bird called the yellow-throated warbler live in sycamore trees,” said Krava. “If we didn’t have the creek, we wouldn’t have the sycamores, and we wouldn’t have the yellow-throated warblers.”

Poplar Creek and Slate Run are little creeks, but full of life and beauty. Standing on the bridge over Poplar Creek in the quiet meadow with not another soul in sight; or along the banks of Slate Run deep in the park with nothing but oneself and the trees and the birds and squirrels around,  you have the space and time to absorb nature and to think about who you were, who you are, and who you will be.

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