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North Creek: Restoring the ramble

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news Farmington, 55024
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

The old Chiffon Margarine commercial of the 1970s proclaimed, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" Well, it looks like maybe this time, Mother Nature is getting her way after all.

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Mother Nature should be a little happier these days, now that a portion of North Creek has been rerouted to more of its natural course.

Last year, the city of Farmington hired a contractor to re-meander a portion of North Creek, near 195th Street, where the new bridge is being built. The project takes a 3,200-foot portion of the creek and essentially returns it to the path it followed decades ago.

City of Farmington natural resource specialist Jen Dullum said the project is a little different, but not unheard of, particularly in areas like Farmington where there are a lot of rivers, creeks, wetlands, and farm fields. Years ago, farmers often dug straight ditches and filled in the curvy streams and creeks, causing those streams to take another path.

"We don't know why this one was straightened," Dullum said, "but it was, and it was made to be more like a ditch. By re-meandering this one, we are enhancing its ecological function as well as providing an amenity to the community."

Several creeks around Farmington have been diverted from their original course over the years in the interest of creating more usable farmland. While it is not necessarily bad for the environment, there are advantages to returning those creeks and streams to their original paths.

Advantages

The portion of North Creek that has been re-meandered extends just upstream and downstream of the area where the new 195th Street bridge will cross the creek. To the south, North Creek enters the Vermillion River.

Adding the curves improves the aquatic habitat and rehabilitates the channel by returning it to a more natural state. The project includes the stabilization of the banks, as well.

As part of last year's process, the new creek banks were chiseled to resemble two steps, then biodegradable fiber blankets were laid over the top. Inside those blankets were seeds of natural grasses.

The second phase of stabilization comes this spring. Branches from willow trees will be staked into the ground. Eventually, Dullum said, the willow trees will provide shade along the new section of the creek. Ultimately, that means good things for the river habitat.

North Creek typically carries warmer water toward the Vermillion. But the shading -- as well as a system of deeper pools -- will help to cool that water as it gets closer to the Vermillion.

"Because it does tributary into the Vermillion, which is a cool water stream, this will help to cool the waters as they go toward the Vermillion River," she said.

Before, when the creek was "ditched," it did not support any fish habitat, Dullum said. With the new tract, there is a chance new types could be introduced to the area.

The process

The project started last August and continued through November. Contractors used large backhoes to dig out a new route. For now, the new channel is still blocked off on each end and the water is still flowing through the ditched area. Once the shoreline vegetation is stabilized, the new route will be opened.

"We're waiting so the soils don't collapse. Water will rise in the spring as the snow thaws and then drop in the summer. When those fluctuations happen you don't want the soil to be taken with it," Dullum said.

There are more creeks and streams throughout the community that could be rerouted, but none are on the books right now. The only reason this section was done is because the city has an easement on the creek and it could be done at a time when the area is not developed. Other projects may occur if more property becomes available to the city.

These projects are not cheap, though. The price tag for this project was $320,000. The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization paid $100,000 of that, because the project coincided with their goals to protect the watershed and river.

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