From sunbathing on its banks to tubing and flinging newly engaged young men into its frigid water, the Yellow Breeches creek has long been a favorite spot for recreation and relaxation for students. The creek, which meanders through Messiah College’s campus, has also been the subject of environmental research—and in order to ensure its health, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded the College a $40,000 grant to be used for stream bank restoration.
The grant is one of 28 Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed grants totaling $1.1 million that were given to local groups in Pennsylvania. A neighbor of the College and a key member of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Pat Devlin, was highly instrumental in initiating and applying for Messiah’s grant. The 68-mile-long Yellow Breeches flows east through three counties, before draining into the Susquehanna River, and is one of the most popular trout streams in Pennsylvania. But in recent years, eroding stream banks and residential and commercial runoff have weakened the Yellow Breeches as a drinking water source and as a habitat for fish. The 900-foot stretch of the creek near the covered bridge on the College’s campus is one such area where stream banks are quickly retreating: in the last ten years, the creek has seen a width increase of more than 25 feet.
The grant money will be applied to a careful survey of the creek bed and design of appropriate containment structures and vegetation restoration, after which Messiah educators, staff, and students will be involved in planning a strategy to stabilize an approximately 900-foot section of the Yellow Breeches bank as it flows through campus.
“This project addresses a critical need—stabilization of our stream bank,” says David Foster, associate professor of biology and environmental science. “I am happy to get a chance to involve our students in the planning and survey stages and, hopefully, the active restoration to follow.”
In addition to rebuilding the stream banks, the stream restoration project will also seek to preserve the aesthetic qualities of this unique campus location and continue to allow for community access that respects the integrity of the reconstructed banks. Although a specific plan for restoration has not yet been finalized, it is common to use a combination of masonry, rock, reinforced earth, and plants to prevent erosion and contain streams. “Preference will be given to low-maintenance structures, use of native plants, and enhanced shading of the stream,” says Foster. As the project moves forward, Messiah will collaborate with other groups, such as the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Land Logics Group, the Yellow Breeches Watershed Association, local townships and conservation organizations, and Messiah College Earthkeepers Club.