Makeover gives new look to Parkerson Mill Creek on Auburn’s campus

After image of Parkerson Mill Creek in front of the new Auburn University Wellness Kitchen.AUBURN UNIVERSITY – A small creek that winds past the football and baseball fields and old coliseum of Auburn University has been transformed this summer from eyesore to outdoor classroom.

The push to complete construction and campus restoration projects before fall typically marks the end of summer semesters at Auburn University. A summer project this year was the restoration of a section of Parkerson Mill Creek that runs through Auburn’s campus near the South Donahue Residence Hall and the Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Through the years, this particular section had become overgrown and unsightly.

“Parkerson Mill Creek has been a project on the table for more than 10 years,” said Charlene Lebleu, associate professor of the landscape architecture program. “When I first came to campus 10 years ago, I was told there was a creek that went through campus, but I could not find it.”

“Parkerson Mill Creek was a fenced-in, grown-up ditch that no one really even knew was here and just kind of avoided,” said Ben Burmester, campus planner for Facilities Management. “From an aesthetic point of view the restoration is a huge improvement. A second benefit is just improving the water quality. Environmental management that we do on campus is part of the role we have as stewards of the land.”

The campus master plan, which was approved in 2013, established natural resource management areas around Parkerson Mill Creek. The $300,000 project is university funded, mostly through bonds and athletic support. The creek restoration included widening the floodplains, cleaning out the stream, seeding and landscaping the surrounding grounds and adding an outdoor classroom. The project was timed to coincide with the completion of the nearby Auburn Wellness Kitchen in July.

“This stream restoration created an opportunity to understand more about water resources and the impacts that we can have on a stream and then a river and then eventually Mobile Bay, just by taking some small steps,” said Eve Brantley, an associate professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and the state water resources specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Working on this stream segment will introduce people to an innovative way to manage streams for habitat, water quality improvement and aesthetics,” Brantley said. “Especially right here in the core of campus, it brings it to a place where people can get to the stream and understand it is more than just a ditch. It is a vibrant, full-of-life water body.”

Brantley noted that the improvements to the creek have enhanced the social and ecological functions, enhanced the biological livability of the landscape made the area available for environmental research. The outdoor classroom aspect of the restoration presents the opportunity for student learning.

As part of an urban landscape, storm water is shunted directly to the stream, increasing water volume and causing the stream base to fall apart. The restoration created a more stable stream base to prevent the destruction of sidewalks and buildings. In-stream structures were also added, which helps flow water energy and keep it to the center of the stream channel, which deters the erosive energy from irritating the stream bank. The project also maximized the floodplains, which helps store floodwaters and transform contaminants that are in the water into less harmful constituents. This cleans up the water downstream.

The restoration brought students, faculty and visitors together to understand more about water resources. This project incorporated experts in engineering, horticulture, soil science, environmental sciences, landscape architecture and urban planning.

“Several organizations, Facilities Management and the Sustainability Initiative are all working together to increase our sustainability across campus, not only through creek restoration, but through cisterns, rain gardens, permeable paving and other types of best management practices for storm water,” Lebleu said.

Parkerson Mill Creek runs through the heart of campus. People will now know where it is and they can congregate at this living stream.

“We now have a stream on campus that is a more highly functioning ecological unit, right here next to our athletic units and our academic units,” Brantley said. “I have a real sense of pride that we’ve taken the steps to look at managing our resources in a new way, in a better way, knowing that there will be adjustments and there will be lessons learned, but that’s what life is all about,  learning new ways to do things and then sharing it with others. I couldn’t be more proud and happier that we’ve taken this step.”

(Written by Tori Rivers.)

Media Contacts:
Eve Brantley, College of Agriculture and Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist, (334) 844-3927 (brantef@auburn.edu),
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)