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Remember: My Riparian Top Five or Why We Need Riparian Buffers

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Riparian Top Five or Why We Need Riparian Buffers

Today, I am offering a list of the five main reasons I support Riparian Buffer installations in our park system. My personal belief actually goes far beyond the plans that the Wildlands Conservancy and the City of Allentown have offered thus far. If it was up to me, and I was the only person that used the parks, I would completely return them to nature and make them all nature preserves. Considering we are in a city with varied parks of different recreational uses and passive features, that plan would not work. Regardless, some Riparian installation needs to happen. Here are my five major reasons for supporting them.

1. Google

My original intention with this post was to make it a Riparian Buffer 101 in honor of school years starting across the county. I went to the Trexler Library to find some resources and I did, but I hit the treasure trove on Google. You see, there are cities, municipalities and counties across America (and the world) that have done Riparian Installation in their parks. There are countless scholarly articles and websites dedicated to spreading educational information about them and about their success. So, my first reason is not technically about Google but about the amount of ridiculous information available out there that support and show the great success of hundreds of Riparian projects.

2. Water Quality

Without going into too much scientific detail, and in light of reading many of those Googled articles, let me say this: Riparian Buffers have been proven to increase wildlife habitat both in the stream and around it. The Buffer acts as it is named in the event of heavy rain fall and helps keep run off from the stream and in turn dramatically lowers stream pollution. It is the thick system of roots that develop in Riparian Buffers that allow this to occur. Riparian Buffers decrease turbidity, cool the water, and help the stream maintain its natural serpentine shape; all of which improve the quality of water.

3. Wildlife Habitat

Part of the thrill in visiting a park when I was a child was the opportunity to catch a crawfish, or feed the geese, or better yet get the chance to see an egret or some large animal that I would never get to see in my backyard. Visiting parks daily, I see that same excitement in kids of all ages when they get the chance to have a genuine wildlife encounter. Reestablishing wildlife habitat helps to strengthen and keep vital the food chain and it also allows for the ecosystem to function better. I want to see herons and snakes when I am snooping around the wilder parts of the parks not eroded creek banks and dying trees.

4. Flowers

While the long green golf course parks we have now are without a doubt areas of beauty, they are also rather sterile; devoid of natural plant development and largely absent of the presence of wildlife. There are countless native species of plants that are beautiful, unique and worth study. Having a natural grass meadow and a Riparian Buffer in a park provides a multitude of opportunities to educate through natural demonstration. The flowers themselves, when in bloom are awe inspiring and truly beautiful. Nature unveiled and on display is of the grandest sights to see while alive.

5. The Pros outweigh the Cons

I have heard the same complaints about Riparian Buffer installations in various forms since the plans for Cedar Beach were announced. I will list and provide my answer to the most common of them here.

-1. There will be poisonous snakes running rampant in the buffers.
I would love to just write No here and let it be but I’ll say that I trust the word of a recognized herpetologist and I believe her to be correct. I have tried to find a poisonous snake in an Allentown city park and have yet to do so. You will be the first to know if I do but it will never happen. If for some magical reason it does, it is an escaped pet NOT a naturally occurring snake. Here is a northern water snake at Trexler park, besides this guy I have seen a few garters and that is it.

-2. You won’t be able to see the creek.
As I documented in the journey of Cedar Creek post, in Cedar Creek Parkway East a fully developed Riparian Buffer zone exits where you can still see the creek and there are mowed access points all through it. While I realize it won’t be the open view we have right now, I encourage you to visit Union Terrace or the area in Cedar Beach Parkway where the buffer will be installed and report back to me on how lovely the heavily eroded stream banks and exposed tree roots look. I’d rather have a limited view of a cleaner creek than a clear view of a muddy mess. Go sit by a fountain in a mall if you want that sterile experience that some seem to desire.

-3. Stormwater. Stormwater. Stormwater.
Every time I hear the issue of stormwater being raised, my immediate reaction is “So?” Do not misunderstand me please; stormwater is a major issue that needs to be addressed by the city soon. I am not a civil engineer so I do not presume to know what can be done to help get stormwater out of the creek. I do know that despite the presence of stormwater; it does not remove the need for Riparian Buffers nor does it make the buffers themselves useless. Doing nothing is the only thing that would be useless. Anything helps, even if it isn’t the perfect solution.

In closing, let me say that adding wildlife habitat, cleaning up the watershed where we have the opportunity to clean it up and adding a genuine experience to our parks is a common sense thing to me. I look forward to the work in October that will install these Riparian areas in Cedar Beach Parkway and I hope it serves the citizens of Allentown with the proper educational example of what we need in all our parks.

Yes, existing buffers need better maintenance but the city is new to them as well and the workers in charge of these areas are still being trained. We are a city taking small steps to a better environmental future.

As I stated above, I say without reserve that arguing against Riparian Buffer installations is simply arguing against common sense. Our parks are far from flawless and to ignore the flaws is nonsensical. After interviewing Greg Weitzel this week, I could see that he isn’t ignoring them. He certainly isn’t doing the work in the parks in the order that I would have done, but things are underway to fix these issues.

Go Buffers go. Without them, we will watch as our beloved parks fall further into sterility and environmental damage. If you really want to see the parks go to hell, don’t put in the buffers. These problems will not go away magically overnight. If you love the parks, as I do, you will see the need for these projects. There is no better way. There is no better chance to really get the wildlife experience that is missing from our parks back. Most importantly, that last thing was a mission statement of General Harry Trexler. He knew what was up 80 years ago. I cannot believe people don’t know now. They should.

P.S: Visit Jordan Park. Ten feet from the slime pool at the bridge/dam is a fledgling unsupervised Buffer zone that has helped the sickly creek enough that in the Riparian Buffer exist freshwater shellfish.



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