The holiday season is upon us. It is the time of year when we open up our homes to family and friends. If you’re like me, over the year you’ve tinkered on a couple home-improvement projects or have done some repair work to keep things in working order. These little enhancements and fixes may not always go as planned or be accomplished in a single weekend, but are nice when they finally get accomplished. Although I’ll always have a “to-do” list, it is during the holidays when I’m most thankful of the progress that I have made.
In a way, you can think about the Duck Creek renovation much like refurbishing an old house. Renovations take care of cosmetic and functional issues, but typically the bulk of the work stays within the framework of the old foundation. There are endearing portions of the house that bring back a flood of memories, whether it is the front porch that allows you to reminisce about cool autumn breezes and lively conversation, or the kitchen that conjures up sweet aromas of past feasts and family fellowship. To take away these portions of the house would take away its character and feel. In other parts of the house there are the rooms, closets or corners that just don’t make sense. Over the years you’ve made do, but if you could do it over again, it would be done differently. I think this analogy works well for Duck Creek, and I’m going to see how far I can take it. If you’re interested, come along as I go through our renovation blueprints.
In 2009, the USACOE started work on the Cato levee water control structure and LRDD started cleaning out the surrounding ditches. Much like having to maintain the crown on a gravel drive and repairing the ruts, the entrance of water to Duck Creek must be periodically maintained. The Cato structure was dysfunctional and has now been completely replaced. Also in the past year LRDD has finished their dredging work along the ditches. The final step along this drainage network is to dress up the sideslopes to minimize erosion and reduce the frequency of maintenance in the future. This work helps reduce the resistance of flow that had built up over the last 50 years between Duck Creek and the Castor River. So in a way you could say that our gravel drive has been updated to a chipped road. Water delivery should be more efficient and easier to maintain in the future. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen this work as we’ve already begun to recharge Pool 1.
In 2010, we started addressing some of the structural problems on Duck Creek proper. A parallel could be made with replacing a rickety old garage door and exterior windows.
The ditch 1/111 structure was a management headache. We couldn’t capture water when we got it and had to intensively manage and maintain the structure when it did work. Now we have a structure that requires little work to operate and maintain. This benefits not only Duck Creek, but also our upstream neighbors. We can easily allow water to pass through and be captured into Pool 1 when it is available. It is kind of like being able to remotely close or open your garage door and even tweak it so that the cat has enough room to scamper underneath if it wants to.
In Pool 3 we replaced one spillway and broadened it and installed another one on the other side of the pool. Similar to a room with poor ventilation, we opened things up so that water, instead of air, could easily pass through the pool without becoming stagnant. Additionally, like updated windows the function remains the same, but the efficiency and function of the structures has improved with this work. In May 2011, the structures were put to the test and worked as they were intended and allowed flood waters to pass through the pool and subside in a timely manner, without causing extensive levee damage or prolonged stress to the trees. The operation of the spillways benefits the long-term management of the trees, helps with flood relief to our neighbors and increases the effectiveness of our water management. For similar reasons we plan to put spillways along Pool 2 and C Pool in the future as well.
Unit A has been pieced together and compartmentalized over the years. A levee was added here to protect the trees. A well and some pipes were piecemealed there to squeeze out a few more acres of flooded ground. The kids from the Mingo Jobs Corps were used to doing cheap levee work over there. Plans for developing the rest of Unit B have been around since the early '90s, but have collected dust on a shelf. Just like a few finished rooms done by different tenants in an unfinished basement, the area might work, but the space probably isn’t utilized to its highest potential.
Unit A has its management issues. Certain locations are never flooded (northwest corner, just east of H Pool), while other spots have to be flooded deeper than they should be just to get water to other portions of the pool. This means that food for waterfowl isn’t available to ducks in certain sections, therefore decreasing the amount of quality habitat that we can provide. Additionally, steep cross levees and adjacent borrows are locations for undermining muskrats to cause continual maintenance problems. Although the borrows provide deeper open water, they don’t function as huntable habitat because they are located along the edges of the pool.
In order to maximize our space, we have had to knock down a few walls, or in this case, levees, to rearrange the layout of Units A and B. We have taken a major ditch out and moved it over to take advantage of the natural fall of the land. Flooded habitat will be extended further west into Unit B, which will provide a few additional hunting spots as well as allow us to reliably flood the ground around the old goose pits. The new distribution channel will allow us to move water to the pools without having to flood any one unit too deep. The northern corner of Unit A will know be capable of being flooded. Levees will be less tempting to muskrats because of gradual 10:1 side-slopes. Borrowed areas will be in the middle of the pools and function as early flooded habitat and deeper pockets of water later in the season.
Will this look different? You bet, but will there be more shallowly flooded ground and less problems in getting water from point A to B, literally.
There are portions on Duck Creek that have the potential to be developed further for wetland management. The two recent acquisitions along the east side of Duck Creek and the Grim tract (timber south of Ditch 106 and Pool 1) are such locations. Just like screening in a porch, installing lights and a fan increases the amount of time that you may sit outside comfortably. By adding some levees and water control structures, we can add some addition flooded ground that can be used to add a couple of additional hunting positions. Our second stage plans include these tracts and are pending the approval of matching funds from the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA). Additionally, like enclosing a porch ties it more directly to the house, several other small fields around Duck Creek will receive some work and be reforested to tie these small patches of trees into the larger surrounding blocks of timber.
I guess you could look at the Greenbrier Unit as a walk-out basement; an area that has some existing infrastructure, but will only be used opportunistically when the conditions are right. There are some existing levees that must be reconfigured, and a few scours that could provide some additional flooded ground after a good rain or when the Castor gets up every now and then. A large portion of this will be put back to trees and tie-in with the riparian corridor along the river. This work is also contingent on the NAWCA grant.
Much like new doorknobs and handles update the interior of a house, we are dressing up our roads. The past 60 years and recent construction activities have taken their toll on our thoroughfares. Trees have grown up along the roadway edges and the ditches. We’ve looked at ways to minimize maintenance, yet maintain access to parking spots. At the end of the renovation traffic will be routed to Unit A and pools 2 and 3 differently to minimize disturbance around Pool 1 during waterfowl season. Additionally, the ditch banks will be easier to maintain in the future by being grass covered and have reduced slopes.
While traditional elements of Duck Creek will remain, portions of the area will look and function much differently. Pool 1 is part of the foundation of the area, and we will continue to depend on it as a fishing lake and our water reservoir for Pools 2 and 3. The hunting blinds in pools 2 and 3 will also remain as part of the character of Duck Creek. These will accommodate those who prefer to hunt these locations and in this style. Units A and B will look totally different and lend themselves more toward those who prefer to wade-in-shoot or hunt out of a layout boat. The utilities of the area (ditches and large water control structures) that allow the area to function have been updated and should reduce the amount of maintenance and management problems that might be experienced in the future. And with the inclusion of some areas along the periphery, a few new opportunities for public use will be utilized as we make the most of the land that we have.
I know all analogies breakdown at one point or another. However, I hope this has helped show the depth and extent of our renovations in a different light, so that when we do finish with our work, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Thanks again for your continued interest and passion for the area. It truly is a unique place, and I am thankful to be a part in reviving this old house. I think we can enjoy the memories of the past and look forward to making new ones in the future. I hope you feel the same way. Have a good Thanksgiving holiday and good luck with the second half of the waterfowl season.