Lower Swan Creek in Toledo is getting a makeover on a couple of fronts, and when the work is done this urban diamond-in-the-rough could become a polished gem.
The natural beauty of the native plants and wildlife in this scenic little urban waterway - for too many ignorant decades past treated like little more than an open sewer - at long last is being given its due.
Of late Mayor Carty Finkbeiner collected in his office his commissioners of parks and forestry; streets, bridges, and harbor; sewer and ditch maintenance, solid waste, and environmental services.
His purpose - make the Swan clean from Byrne Road to the mouth on the Maumee River downtown. And do it by Sept. 13, the date of the annual Clean Your Streams volunteer litter cleanup program.
"It needs work, without any question," said the mayor. "But it is beautiful." No argument here.
"We're going to clean up Swan Creek as far as any of the logjams in advance of the Clean Your Streams project in September," added Denny Garvin, commissioner of parks and forestry. "We're pulling out the litter and the logjams and disposing of it properly. We're all fully committed to this. I think it will make a huge difference."
The commissioner noted it is inevitable that over time fallen bankside trees will block the creek's flow, eventually jamming up piles of limbs, brush, and litter. "We're just glad that the mayor is so committed to this. This is his priority."
In any case, for his part the mayor - and by association, the city - is on board with the heavy lifting in the creek cleanup.
So is Partners for Clean Streams Inc., a Bowling Green-based nonprofit organization that recently merged with the Maumee Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The latter is a group created two decades ago to unite the region on cleanup efforts for Toledo-area waterways.
"Partners for Clean Streams wholeheartedly supports the mayor's massive effort to remove logjams, debris, and garbage in and along Swan Creek, taking the annual Clean Your Streams Day that the city has been a long time leader in, to a whole new level," stated Kristina Patterson PCS executive director.
"This coordinated, five-division effort will start with detailed mapping of garbage and log jam 'hot spot' identification, both by foot and by water, and lead to access agreements and large removal equipment to clear out the largest and most awkward debris that volunteers cannot get ourselves."
In June a flotilla of canoeists/conservationists paddled, portaged, and grappled with the lower Swan, from Byrne Road to the Erie Street Market downtown. The floodplain was teeming with wildlife and wildflowers, the tree canopy as cool and soothingly darkened as a cathedral.
The trip, organized by PCS, was aimed at raising community awareness of the stream, and how Toledo has an ugly duckling that had the potential to become a graceful swan. But some litter accumulates annually, especially around the jams, though not in the volumes in decades past, thanks in part to periodic massive cleanups.
All manner of wildlife were seen during the canoe trip, from white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, and woodchucks to turtles, great blue herons, and mallard and wood ducks and their families of ducklings. There also were such colorful songbirds as a Baltimore oriole and barn swallows, the latter of which swooped around their mud nests underneath virtually every bridge.
But canoeists also struggled over, under, around, and through 12 to 14 massive logjams, sometimes by chainsaw. Which is where the city's heavy-lifting comes in.
The clear-out and clean-up is just one part of the game plan, however. The heavy lifting also includes the water-quality side through the ongoing $450 million Toledo Waterways Initiative, a segment of which aims to eliminate sewer overflows into the Swan by 2015.
Last and not least, Partners for Clean Streams has secured nearly $250,000 from the Joyce Foundation to decommission the Highland Park Dam, which among other things has been an impediment to passage of many fish species, including such increasing seasonal runs of gamefish as white bass and some steelhead trout, and growing presence of resident largemouth bass, sunfish, and more.
The white bass runs to the dam alone last spring brought dozens of fishermen to lower Swan Creek.
A community workshop sponsored by PCS is set for Aug. 25 to 27 to focus on the Highland Park Dam project and the removal of the Secor Road Dam on the Ottawa River. More information on the workshop is available on the Internet at: PartnersForCleanStreams.org, or call 419-373-3006.
"We cannot remove the Highland Park Dam; there is a sewer running underneath it," said Patterson. "So we're working with the city of Toledo to create a 'fish ladder' to reconnect the two stretches of Swan Creek." Patterson added that the low-head dam is too much of an impediment for most fish passage.
The project, moreover, will include re-establishing some upland plots of native plants.
Highland Park is part of a larger Maumee Initiative in which the private Joyce Foundation has invested $5 million in the Maumee River basin. PCS is partnering with the city of Toledo, which owns the property, the Army Corps of Engineers with its expertise in dam mitigation projects, and many local volunteers to assist with the plant harvesting and installation this fall.
"We recognize and appreciate the commitment to our natural resource this type of a large scale clean up demonstrates," said PCS' Patterson. "Partners for Clean Streams appreciates the support and willingness of the city to partner with us on many projects throughout the year, such as the canoe trip [by providing the canoes], soon to be 12 years of Clean Your Streams Day community cleanups, and the Highland Park Dam restoration project."
For his part the mayor no doubt has a motive in mind beyond pure beautification and wildlife and native plant restoration. That would be sweetening the pot for the proposed $300 million mixed-use riverwalk development on the creek downtown. The man recently took a pontoon boatload of executives from prospective California developer, Tetra Tech Inc., on a tour of the lower creek.
"They're very high on the potential of Swan Creek for development of a miniriverwalk like San Antonio," said Toledo's top salesman. May it be so.