The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™)
The Chestnut Creek Restoration project is a small stream-side renovation project that sits behind the central parking area of the Town Hall in Neversink, New York.
Chestnut Creek is an environmentally sensitive stream corridor whose waters flow directly into the New York City reservoir system. The project objectives included removal of invasive plants along the stream bank, stabilizing the stream bank, creating a showcase of native plantings to encourage their use by the public, and managing adjacent parking lot run-off. The restoration area was previously covered with lawn that allowed unfiltered water to flow directly into Chestnut Creek. The area, now restored and planted as a wildflower garden with native vegetation, extends 300 feet along Chestnut Creek’s banks. The design, installation, and maintenance of this project provided many educational opportunities for the designer, agencies involved, contractors, and community volunteers. The project was a joint effort of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District, and the Town of Neversink, New York.
The site is located about 100 miles north of New York City in the Catskill Mountains, within the North Central Appalachian bioregion. This portion of the Town of Neversink is located within the Hudson River Watershed. The town is host to two of New York City’s six reservoirs west of the Hudson. The Town of Neversink is also the southernmost community in Catskill Park, a 700,000-acre Forest Preserve managed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Being the local access to the Catskill Park System, Neversink supports recreational activities such as hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and camping. The climate is a humid temperate climate, with cold winters and warm summers. Average annual precipitation is between 40 and 48 inches of rain, with 60 to 100 inches of snow.
Protect and restore riparian zones: Because the area was prone to flooding and erosion damage, large stone rip-rap was placed at eroded bank areas and the corridor was planted with deep rooted and colorful native species of shrubs, trees, grasses, and perennials. The planted area filters run-off from the Town Hall parking lot and provides habitat for birds and butterflies. There is a grass pre-treatment strip before the water enters the planting. The planting itself slows down and filters water.
Eliminate potable water consumption for irrigation: All of the plants that were planted after invasive species were removed use no supplemental irrigation. The garden was established late in the season, in September. That year, the ground was still moist with an abundance of rainfall. The initial planting did receive hand bucketed water from the stream for dry container plants.
Control and manage invasive species: The existing stream bank was a disturbed area full of invasive plants such as Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) and Japanese Barberry (Berberis sp.). The invasive species were removed and replaced with native plants. The plants came from a local nursery, Catskill Perennials in Callicoon, New York, about 30 miles away. Some were propagated by that nursery and some of the plugs were ordered from a large native plants nursery in Pennsylvania, which is still within 150 miles.
Promote sustainability awareness and education: This project was also conceived as an educational tool to encourage the local community to remove invasives and plant native species. Colorful cultivars and plants with seasonal interest were chosen to engage public interest. To educate visitors, attractive ceramic markers with the common and scientific names were also installed. To date, the educational aspect of this project continues to evolve. Recently, high school students from the local Tri-Valley School under the direction of their new natural resources teacher have become involved with identifying and removing invasive plants, native seed collection, and installation of additional trees to maintain the shade area of the garden, as well as other horticultural tasks. This is a great boon to the garden, since previously it was weeded only twice a year by community volunteers. There are further plans by the high school to use the garden as a teaching resource regarding biodiversity and native plants, which will involve monitoring bird, amphibian, and insect visitation, and the garden’s success at providing habitat. In addition, the NYC DEP periodically checks the plantings for species survivability and erosion control, since this was a demonstration stream project in which they have a stake.
Use regional materials: Rip-rap and soil mixtures were sourced from a local farm. All the mulch used on site was ground bark from a local lumber mill less than 5 miles away. The farm has deep deposits of sandy soil and managers have been mixing that with on-site manure for many years.
Of the $18,900 total cost, labor costs were $8,400. Approximately 192 hours of volunteer labor and 24 hours of backhoe and dump truck labor were used during construction. Plant materials were $7,000, and site materials cost $3,500.
To ensure that weed and deer damage are kept to a minimum, informal monitoring had previously been done by the designer and volunteers. The program for weeding was primarily in the spring, in early May, as part of a larger Town-wide spring clean-up program when many volunteers were available. Fall clean-ups were also organized and included persuading the Town not to have their landscape maintenance crew cut down perennials so that seed heads can be left for birds and leaf litter for insects and amphibians. Because of the excessive rain, the deer repellent program was not effective this year. Most of the Monarda didyma was eaten but most other plants did well and were not browsed excessively.
Weeding was done twice a year. During the first 2 years it was done at least every 2 weeks. Because the plantings had grown so prolifically, there was not as much opportunity for weeds to invade. However, during flooding, the soil is open and weed seeds from invasive plants do get a foot hold. Most problematic is crown vetch, barberry, and oriental bittersweet. Currently, the high school natural resource class has taken on the responsibility of garden maintenance and monitoring and has performed a thorough fall weeding and assessment. If continued, some of the maintenance problems encountered, such as mistaken removal of trees with woodpecker holes by overzealous town maintenance personnel, will cease and the garden as a whole will thrive as a biodiverse planting.
Issues/Constraints of the Site
* The area was prone to flooding and erosion damage. When areas of stone rip-rap washed away during floods, plantings were destroyed and had to be replaced. Larger rip-rap went in the following season. To date, along with deep-rooted native plantings, the stream bank has successfully held against further erosion since 2007.
* The local deer population needed to be kept away from new and establishing native plantings.
* Initially, the replanting of isolated areas cost $500 per year, due to flooding and deer, but that has been reduced because plantings are now established and the deer repellent protocol is in place. The mulch, which is supplied by the Town Highway Dept, is estimated at another $500 per year.
* There was a steep learning curve for site maintenance crews accustomed to caring for the adjacent traditionally-landscaped Town Hall. Education of personnel continues, with a focus on letting seedheads and leaf litter remain over the winter and not removing trees with cavities that are not dangerous.
* The deer repellent program (non-toxic spraying) needs to be consistent, and instituted early in the season to be effective. Deer establish a pattern over time to avoid certain plantings and at that point, the spraying can become less frequent.
* The value of ‘less than perfect’ tree specimens, that still provide important habitat, needs to be impressed upon maintenance personnel.
* Volunteer participants learned key lessons about native vegetation: During the establishment period, native plantings of all kinds need the same attention and management program as conventional plantings. Invasive species will continue to compete with the native vegetation and human intervention is required in order to maintain viable populations of native species.
Chestnut Creek Restoration Project Designer
The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden in conjunction with a diverse group of stakeholder organizations. The central message of the Sustainable Sites Initiative is that any landscape—whether the site of a large subdivision, a shopping mall, a park, an abandoned rail yard, or even one home—holds the potential both to improve and to regenerate the natural benefits and services provided by ecosystems in their undeveloped state.