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Archive for the ‘Monitoring’ Category

Searching for European Water Clover

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

As mentioned in the Summer 2016 HRWC newsletter, both Barton and Argo Pond on the Huron River are home to a new exotic aquatic plant, the European Water-Clover (Marsilea quadrifolia). In 2015, Michigan DEQ alerted HRWC that this plant was only in two places in the state, Barton/Argo Ponds and a location in the Clinton River Watershed.  However, they were unaware of  how widespread this plant was in our system.  In 2015, HRWC volunteers searched those ponds and found many patches of the plant and reported their location back to DEQ.

The scientific community at large is generally ignorant about the European Water Clover; people do not know how it spreads, to what extent it can out-compete nearby native plants, and how it might change the ecology of the system.  This is often an issue with new exotic species; scientists often don’t know how damaging something will be until it becomes a problem. It is important to get a handle on these new plants, though, because you can’t predict when the next Phragmites will arrive- a plant that spreads very rapidly and changes its ecosystem. And any control methods have to be done very carefully, as so many plants (such as Eurasian Water Milfoil) can actually spread faster and further if they are carelessly ripped out.

This past spring, HRWC put a monitoring plan together with DEQ.  To determine when the plant first emerged, HRWC visited two known problem areas weekly in Argo and Barton Ponds through the late spring and early summer.  The water clover was first detected in early June.

steen kayak water clover

Not at bad day at the office. Paul Steen searches for water clover on the Huron River. credit: G. Battersby

To determine possible spread of the water clover, HRWC and DEQ waited until early August of this year, when the plant would be at its full summer growth, and surveyed upstream of Barton Pond, from Delhi Metropark to the Maple Street Bridge.  Thankfully, that section of the Huron River was clear of the plant.  It does seems that the plant strongly prefers very slow water, and the Huron upstream of Barton generally flows at a moderate to rapid rate.

HRWC is planning additional monitoring downstream, through Gallup Park and Superior Pond, which contains more promising habitat for the plant. DEQ is also planning to try out some control methods, conducting both herbicide treatments in a greenhouse and an exclusion method using a mat that covers the plants in the river.

HRWC will continue to watch this exotic plant and report out as more is learned about European Water Clover in the Huron River system.

Enjoy the Outdoors?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Get Outdoors and Support the Huron River!

We need volunteers to join our natural area field assessment teams!

Get outside, meet new people, learn about our local natural areas and help out HRWC’s Bioreserve Natural Areas Assessment program! HRWC is seeking field volunteers to help inventory ecologically important natural areas in the watershed.

Volunteer teams will be conducting rapid ecological assessments of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and aquatic habitats throughout this spring, summer and fall. Each visit is like a nature hike through a new woods or wetland.

The 2016 season marks our nineth field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 300 properties throughout S.E. Michigan.  These efforts have helped protect over 6,000 acres of land in the watershed. Land conservancies and community preservation programs use the data gathered to promote permanent protection of those lands identified as the highest quality and most important for protection of the Huron River. Come to our program introduction and training on

May 14, 2016
10 am to 4 pm 
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake

For more information, contact Kris Olsson at 734-769-5123 x 607, kolsson@hrwc.org.

Stonefly Search: Lots of searching, not so many stoneflies

January 23rd was a beautiful day for the annual Stonefly event.  The weather hovered around 30 degrees and the sun shone nicely throughout the volunteers’ time outside.  They were searching for stoneflies, an insect that only lives in the healthiest creeks and rivers. The absence and presence of stoneflies, and the trends in their population that we see after visiting a location over and over again, give us clues as to how the water is changing over time.

stonefly_jackie Richards

The beautiful Fleming Creek at Parker Mill County Park. credit: Jackie Richards

Strange Weather

Unfortunately for the purposes of data analysis and clear-cut answers, stoneflies are affected by more than water quality, however.  Strange weather can also play havok on their ecosystems, causing populations to drop off. Our volunteers came back with very low amounts of stoneflies this year, and while we can’t be certain, it is possible that our variable Michigan weather is to blame.  You may recall that December was unseasonably warm in 2015, and wonder how that might affect the insects.   However, in this case, it wasn’t a warm December that hurt the stoneflies, but instead February 2015, a month that was extremely cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest February’s on record.  When streams and rivers are covered by thick ice, oxygen levels decline, which is bad for all aquatic life but particularly bad for stoneflies, who have high oxygen requirements.  Also, February and early March are when winter stonefly adults are emerging, mating, and depositing eggs; all activities hampered by extreme cold and ice cover. In summary, the cold 2015 winter had direct consequences for the stoneflies in 2016.

Volunteers did not find stoneflies at many places this year, but five locations in particular that did not have stoneflies were noteworthy as all of them have a long (10+ years) history of always holding stoneflies.  In addition, all of these locations have great insect populations at our other events and there are no indications of water quality issues, further strengthening the argument that this year was a weather-related population decline. These five locations were three places on the main branch of the Huron (White Lake, Zeeb, and Bell Roads), Arms Creek at Walsh Road, and Boyden Creek at Delhi Road. Many other locations had reduced numbers or family counts.

Those interested in all results can see them here: PDF report.

A spud is an essential tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

A spud is an essential ice-smashing tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

Other Results:

Prior to the event, I laid out several examples of things that we would watch for this year:

Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail:  Stoneflies have been dropping off here for the past decade.  Volunteers did come back with stoneflies this year, though not the winter stoneflies but rather a family that is more widely available.  Still, this is good news.

Honey Creek at Wagner Road: Stoneflies were missing here in 2014 for the first time, and unfortunately volunteers did not find them this year either.

Woods Creek at Lower Huron Metropark: Just like Honey Creek at Wagner Road, stoneflies were not found here for the second year in a row.

Insect populations are resilient and can bounce back with good water quality and suitable weather conditions.  While this year was disappointing, the mild winter we are experiencing right now may result in a bumper crop in 2017. Come next January, HRWC and its volunteers will be ready to check it out!

 

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

The slender winter stonefly, Capniidae.  Credit: www.troutnut.com

The slender winter stonefly, Family Capniidae. Credit: www.troutnut.com

It is January, which means that one of HRWC’s favorite events, the Stonefly Search, is right around the corner.

Stoneflies are interesting because they are the most pollution intolerant group of aquatic insects that we have in Michigan.  They can only thrive in the cleanest water with high levels of dissolved oxygen.  When they are found at a location it is a confirmation of high water quality, and when they disappear from a stream it is a warning sign that water quality has degraded.

It might seem strange to many that we hunt for stoneflies in the winter.  This is because two of the stonefly families, the Capniidae and the Taeniopterygidae, change from aquatic nymphs to terrestrial adults in the late winter and early spring.  This means that we can’t find them during the normal April River Roundup, and so we have to look for them earlier in the year!

The Stonefly Search always produces interesting results.  Let’s take a look at some of the findings in recent years.

Stonefly Successes!

Reported in 2013: Four sites had the best stonefly samples that had ever been seen at those locations: Chilson Creek at Chilson Road, Fleming Creek at Galpin Road, the Huron River at Flat Rock, and Woodruff Creek at Buno Road.  At each of these sites, the stoneflies normally found at the location were there, but also new stonefly families were found that had never been seen there before! A greater diversity of stoneflies indicates greater stream health.  These are promising results and hopefully it will continue into longer term trends.

Reported in 2011: Since 2007 and up through last year, our volunteers have found 4 families of stoneflies in Mann Creek. This includes 2 stonefly families that can be found in creeks year round (Perlidae & Perlodidae), and the 2 stonefly families that are only found in the winter (Capniidae & Taeniopterygidae). Even in the Huron’s healthiest streams, it is unusual to find more than 2 families of stoneflies during the Stonefly Search.  So, Mann Creek is special indeed. Mann Creek flows through a residential neighborhood- but one really interesting thing about Mann Creek is that there is a very wide natural riparian zone surrounding the creek.  This riparian area provides habitat and food for stoneflies as branches and leaves fall into the creek. To see Mann Creek and its impressive riparian zone, click here.

Stonefly Failures!

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Reported in 2015: Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail (near South Lyon) is a location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

Reported in 2015:  The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner Road (Ann Arbor) were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

Reported in 2013: The team searching for stoneflies in Woods Creek in Belleville came back disappointed.  Wood’s Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark has been sampled 12 times since 1997, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. The problem likely comes from the thick ice and difficult conditions rather than pollution or disturbed stream habitat, but we will keep an eye on Wood’s Creek next year.

What will we find in 2016?

Will Mann Creek continue to reign as the king of Huron River stoneflies?  Will we find stoneflies where they have never been before?

Will we find stoneflies this year at Davis, Honey, and Woods Creek, or has the water quality there continued to decline?

We will see you on January 23 and we will answer these questions together!

Click here for registration and more information.

What will this Search find this year? credit: Dan Myer

What will HRWC volunteers find this year? credit: Dan Myer

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice

In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice

We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize

Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stoneflies

 

Winter stones are quite the thing

Though one surely might be wondering

How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold

As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold

 

Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive

Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive

And winter is helpful in another major way

The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away

 

Quite sensitive to any water pollution,

Winter stones provide a quick solution

If we find ‘em we can be sure

That the stream is sweet and pure

 

The critters are small and rather dark

In this frigid weather they have a lark

Scamper about in the ice and snow

There’s no other place for them to go

 

To ID them here’s what you do

Look for wingpads four and cerci two

Along the flanks no gills are found

And on each leg two claws astound

 

The ice is thick, the water chills,

With cold I’m fed up to the gills

But none could say that we are quitters

We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters

 

Believe me, I know whereof I speak

You’ll find out fast if your waders leak

One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks

When that icy water hits their socks

 

Collectors and runners can stay in motion

Stay warmer thus, I have a notion

But picking requires that one stand still

Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill

 

Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear

If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear

If you should venture this dumb thing to do

I guarantee you’ll surely break through

 

Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed

Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need

That usually turns out to be about right

So that you are not left in a piteous plight

 

A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing

Helps to keep that D-net from freezing

And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry

Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh

 

On these trips a truly most gracious amenity

May help the participants keep some of their sanity

A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot

Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.

Stonefly Search is coming January 23! Registration and info here.

About the author:

Dave Wilson is a HRWC volunteer and trained collector who has attended 9 Stonefly Searches and countless other HRWC events.

Toxic Contaminants Found in Ann Arbor Detention Basins

Stevi with the boat, ponar and "muck bucket" for mixing sediment samples

Stevi with the boat, ponar and “muck bucket” for mixing sediment samples

Recently, a team of us HRWC staff went out to see if we could detect the kind of effects scientists from elsewhere are seeing from the application of coal tar sealants. In short, coal tar sealants and their recent cousins release a class of chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are toxic and known to cause cancer. For more detail on that work see a previous blog entry and our web page summarizing the threats.

To find out if this is indeed a concern in our area, we identified a few detention ponds to sample within the Huron’s biggest urban area of Ann Arbor. The City of Ann Arbor staff helped us find publicly accessible ponds that would capture runoff predominantly from urban areas with lots of hardened surfaces like parking lots and driveways. The city does not use coal tar sealants on its roads, but many businesses use it on parking lots and residents use it on driveways. We selected three ponds from different parts of the city to sample in a pilot effort to determine the level of PAH contamination of pond sediments. Ponds were selected from  within the Malletts, Traver and Fleming Creek watersheds.

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Sampling these ponds is more difficult than it sounds. It required borrowing a row boat from our friends in the Eastern Michigan University Biology Department, hauling the boat through heavy brush and up steep hills, and rowing out through shallow, mucky waters where we dropped a ponar (i.e. sediment scooper) to grab 5 samples of the bottom sediment. These samples were combined into a single sample for each pond that was then sent to a private lab (with the help of Ann Arbor’s Water Treatment Laboratory staff) for PAH identification and quantification.

The results were shocking. Of the ten PAH samples with identified toxic effects levels, sediments from the Malletts Creek pond exceeded the “probable effects concentration” (PEC) for eight of them! This is the concentration of PAHs in the water that will have adverse affects to aquatic organisms. Sediments in the Traver and Fleming ponds exceeded the PEC for 6 and 4 of the PAH species, respectively. For many of the PAH samples, the PEC was exceeded by 10- or even 100-fold, indicating that the sediments are highly toxic!

Since other studies have indicated that between 50 and 70% of PAHs in detention pond sediments originate from coal tar sealants, it appears that Ann Arbor (and most probably other urban areas in the watershed) has a problem with coal tar leaching. While we only sampled three ponds thus far (we plan to sample others this spring), the results are consistent with findings from research scientists elsewhere.

So, what do we do now? HRWC is currently working with local municipal leaders in Van Buren and Scio Townships, the City of Ann Arbor and elsewhere to pass ordinances to ban the application of coal tar sealants. A state ban would be even more effective but we need to build the political will. Contact HRWC staff to find out how to get involved in your community, and check out the links above to learn what to do on your own driveway.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)

Excellent

1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)

Good

5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)

Fair

13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)

Poor

19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.

 

Geomorphologists Assemble!

HRWC recently hosted the first Michigan Aquatic Restoration Conference (MARC) with partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, as well as business sponsors Stantec, North State Environmental, Inter-Fluve, and Spicer Group. Located at the retreat setting of the Kettunen Center, the MARC brought together over 120 agency and academic scientists and engineers and industry professionals from all over Michigan as well as several other Great Lakes states. Much of the conference focused on geomorphology, or the study of the processes that shape a river channel and produce the habitat that exists in its present state.

Studying the Pine River

Participants visited the Pine River to study a recent restoration effort.

The MARC was led off with a workshop on “Woody Debris Management” by one of the founding fathers of geomorphology, Dr. David Rosgen from Wildland Hydrology. He also provided a keynote presentation on lessons he has learned from more than two decades of stream restoration work. National restoration expert Will Harman from Stream Mechanics discussed a popular conceptual framework he developed — the “Functional Pyramid” — and discussed how restoration practitioners should seek to provide rivers and streams with “functional lift.”

Other presentations and discussions focused on the various and sundry nuances of stream restoration in practice throughout Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and parts south and west. There was a genuine excitement in the air throughout the conference as participants engaged in vibrant discussion about how to apply principles (some theoretical at this point) to stream restoration, in what is a relatively new applied science.

Local TV news coverage of the MARC

If you missed the conference this year, check out the MARC website for a sampling of the presentations and discussions, and keep your eye out for an announcement of the next iteration.

Bird, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 4

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is done, the days are getting shorter, and the air is a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is the 4th part of a short series on migrating animals. The final topic: dragonflies!

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Dragonflies

Of all four topics I am covering in this series, scientists seem to understand dragonfly migration the least.  This is likely because not much effort has been put into the subject: dragonflies are of not great economic importance, and the best known species that migrates, Common Green Darner, is widespread and abundant and so there is little concern about its future. In general, dragonflies are not very sensitive to water pollution, and can thrive in man-made or naturals wetlands. This is in contrast to some bat species and the Monarch butterfly, which are very specific in their over-wintering habitat selection.

Of the 326 species of dragonflies in North America, about 18 are regular migrants. Besides the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), other migrating dragonflies include the Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), Spot-winged glider (Pantala hymenaea), Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) and Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum).

The dragonfly life cycle

Dragonflies are fascinating creatures, with strange mating, flying, and territorial behaviors.  This complexity applies to migration as well, which certainly contributes to the sense that scientists have yet to unravel dragonfly migration.

For example, work done by entomologist R. Trottier in 1971 revealed Common Green Darner could adopt two distinct life-cycles.  One group of darners had the standard dragonfly life-cycle: nymphs emerged as adults in June, laid eggs in the summer, and died by late August.  The eggs would hatch into nymphs that would overwinter locally in the bottom of streams and ponds and then emerge again the next June. (Side note: Dragonflies spend 1-3 years in the nymph stage, depending on the species).

The other group of the darners did not emerge until late-August, and rapidly disappeared from local ponds and wetlands as they began a migration south. Their children would be the ones to return in early April and continue the generational cycle. In this population, migration is a normal part of the life cycle. In other words, just like the Monarch butterflies, dragonfly migration is a one-way ticket for any given individual. The first generation will travel south, reproduce and die, and the children will head north. They will reproduce and die and their children will go south.

However, not all dragonflies migrate, even within the same species. This is a complication that is not well understood.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Timing and Destination

In 2006, researchers attached micro-radio transmitters to Green Darners and followed them along their migration for 12 days. On average, they traveled 30-40 miles in a 5-7 day period, eventually going an average of 400 miles. Another study recorded a maximum observed distance of 2200 miles.

Like the other animals we have studied, dragonflies rest for several days at a time while on the migration route, so the total migration time can last many weeks.  From the Mid-West and Northeast United States, they are able to reach the Gulf Coast states and occasionally Mexico.

Cold nights seems to trigger dragonfly migration, just like with birds. Dragonflies will began their journey south in mid-August, and will continue through the end of October.  The dragonflies use northerly winds that follow from cold fronts to speed them on their way, and can be seen traveling in swarms of hundreds of thousands, though they also travel as individuals and small groups.

Like birds and butterflies, it seems like they navigate using some type of internal magnetic compass and using topographic features like lakeshores and coastlines. Another interesting observation in the 2006 study is that dragonflies can alter their migration route considerably (in this case, by 120 degrees) in order to avoid flying over large bodies of water.

Learn more!

Check out this webpage: Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.  This partnership is a collaborative effort between universities, dragonfly experts, the federal government, and nongovernmental programs with the goal of learning more about dragonfly migration.

The Partnership welcomes dragonfly observations from citizen scientists!

Thanks for reading!

It has been great fun for me to research these migrations and learn about new things (for me) that I had been wondering about for some time.  I hope you enjoyed the series too!

-Paul Steen, HRWC Aquatic Ecologist.

 

 

 

Mystery and Adventure at Site 38

From guest blogger Karen Schaefer

(With apologies to real mystery writers everywhere)

The day began as any other for our Norton Creak Road Stream Crossing team—a 9:30 a.m. rendezvous at Dunkin’ Donuts to plot the day’s strategy. Sitting at our usual table,  Larry unfurled The Map, revealing twelve sites still unexplored. Sites 37 and 38 lay in a residential area. Typically, this means easy parking followed by a fairly straightforward study. A tempting target, perfect for three of us!

Little did we know, Site 38 had other plans.

Our drive to the site was uneventful. We found the cross streets within minutes of leaving our rendezvous location. Jumping out of the car, mind Ryan’s sharp eyes scouted for a culvert. He quickly identified a cement structure surrounded by trees and brush, well below road grade. So this was the much sought-after Site 38! We donned our sturdiest waders to tackle the 6-foot culvert (and to avoid the clearly visible poison ivy).

Ryan and Karen disappeared into the culvert. Amid the piles of cobble in the creek bed, they quickly determined this was Site 38’s outlet. Larry went on a search for the other end. Surely, a 6-foot cement pipe would be easy to find!

Alas, no. Foiling Larry’s best “Lewis and Clark” maneuvers, Site 38’s inlet remained shrouded in mystery.

Larry returned with a proposal to the team: Were we up for risking an in-culvert search to solve the mystery of the missing inlet? The response was unanimous.

Larry broke out the “really serious gear”: hard hats for everyone, and a light. Larry and Ryan grabbed the trusty multi-purpose poles (aka specially modified 8-foot tomato stakes). Karen held onto the data sheet and her phone (because every adventure needs pictures). She added the tape measure at the last minute; you never know what might need measuring!

Bravely, we entered the gaping mouth of the culvert outlet.

We were quickly outnumbered—and surrounded on all sides—by very large, unhappy spiders! Larry led the way, fending them off right and left. The trusty pole even worked its magic by clearing the webs. Still, despite our best efforts, some spiders managed to hitch a ride and enjoyed the trek alongside of (and on top of) us.

We made our way carefully, uncertain of what lay beyond. We were shrouded in complete darkness. Zero cell phone reception. Only the occasional drain cover provided a tiny glimpse of daylight.

The depth and muckiness of the substrate varied, fortunately never deeper than our calves. Ryan attempted to open a drain cover to get our position and determine whether escape (if necessary) would be possible; it was locked tight.

Onward we trudged. For hours, it seemed. Around a slight curve. Then two bends, each approximately 45 degrees. At one point, Karen asked Larry if he had checked the weather forecast for any flash floods. Larry assured us that he had, indeed; the forecast was perfect.

Suddenly, after what was certainly hours, substantial daylight appeared in the distance. Eureka!

Our relief at seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” quickly turned to dismay…as a trash rack covering the inlet came into view. Yes, we had found the inlet! Only to be thwarted by a grate covering the entire inlet. Except….

At the bottom was a very small opening. Narrow, with metal grate spikes projecting both top and bottom. Ryan examined it and commented he just might be able to get through. Suddenly, hope! We might discover the location of the hidden inlet after all! If only Ryan could manage to escape…

Sloooowly, carefully, Ryan slid himself over the grate….and out to safety! Well, except that he popped out into the backyard of a private residence. Karen gave Ryan her phone, knowing he’d be able to call for help should the situation turn dire.

Using his backpacking orienteering skills (and making his way carefully along property lines), Ryan located the street on which the adventure had begun. He set out on the long journey back.

Trapped inside the culvert, with no hope of escaping through the inlet, Larry and Karen determined the only way out was the same as the way in…back through spiders, webs, muck, and darkness. Realizing this was an opportunity to assess the actual culvert length (albeit from the inside rather than out), they began measuring with the tape, stepping through in increments. Holding the tape’s end, Larry walked 75 feet. Then Karen reeled in in the tape while walking toward him. They repeated this…75 feet, 30 feet….

Suddenly, Larry proposed measuring a length of culvert pipe and counting the sections. Brilliant! and much quicker.

Eventually, many 8-foot culvert sections later, Larry and Karen emerged from the darkness. They were greeted by Ryan at the culvert outlet. He had found his way back from the mysterious inlet down the street—previously hidden, but no longer a secret!

A quick nose count revealed the only casualty of the day: one trusty, multi-purpose pole (aka, the pink tomato stake). It will be greatly missed.

Success was enjoyed by all as we filled in key sections of the data form: inlet data with pics, actual culvert length (928 feet!), and even a somewhat representative site drawing. The thrill of completing the NCRSC data sheet was more than ample reward to the team who bravely faced the risks at mysterious Site 38.


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