November 12, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

Wilson Creek meanders through a valley in Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest much as it did before European settlers came to the area. But between then and today, the stream had taken a different course.

Sometime in the past, the stream channel had been realigned into a much straighter line, perhaps to allow for farming or homesteads. This change resulted in a degraded stream channel that had cut to bedrock and acted much like a drainage ditch swiftly moving water through the watershed without time for sediment to settle and impurities to filter out.

After more than a year of planning, the stream channel has been restored to its more natural meandering thanks to the efforts of Bernheim Forest, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

U of L engineers Art Parola and Bill Vesely did the engineering models and stream design. Former UK forestry professor Chuck Rhoades worked with soil and vegetation and Paul Bukaveckas, U of L stream biologist, also worked on the project. Additional faculty and students at the two universities are also doing some work and research projects at the site.

Contracted by Bernheim to oversee revegetation of the restoration site is Adam Dattilo, a UK College of Agriculture graduate with an undergraduate degree in natural resource conservation management and a master’s degree in forestry. Margaret Shea, natural areas director at Bernheim, also played a leading role in the project, he said.

“We are restoring it to a healthy stage where it is dynamically stable,” he said. 

Some 2,700 feet of the stream was realigned and it is about 500 feet longer than in the past as it winds through the valley. The stream was designed to allow the backs to overflow and spread out into the floodplain. Additionally, some low areas designed as seasonal wetlands also are along the floodplain. Cobblestones collected from the along the stream have been placed in the streambed and logs also are placed along the way. 

The old streambed had dug so deeply into the ground that its banks were high and did not allow for water to get over them, instead shooting it on downstream along with sediment and possible pollutants. The restored channel now is able to access the floodplain during flood events. This allows sediment, nutrients and toxins to be removed from the water before it moves on downstream. 

The result is better water quality and better habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. 

Now that the channel has been restored, Dattilo will spend the next months planting more than 40 different vegetative species along the bank and in the surrounding floodplain. All the species will come from seed collected in Bernheim Forest. The trees are being grown out at a Kentucky Department of Forestry nursery, he said.
“There’s a whole lot that goes into restoring a stream,” he said.

The work is being funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and is being overseen by the Kentucky Division of Water.

The site is to be used for demonstrations on streams and stream restoration.

“We want to show people in the area and students the kind of work that can be done in restoring habitat and water quality,” he said.

Already, the site has been visited by two groups of private landowners, a U of L biology class and a group of teachers for the visually impaired. Dattilo and Amanda Abnee, Extension associate for environmental and natural resource issues, are making plans to use the site for a training session with county Extension agents for agriculture and natural resources.

“This is something some landowners may be interested in and there is state and federal cost share money available to help,” she said.

Abnee said she and Dattilo tried to secure a grant to include an interpretive trail along the stream. That did not pan out, but they are still working on ways to make that a reality, she said. 

Dattilo said the Wilson Creek project is a “Cadillac” version of stream restoration but there are other things that landowners can do to restore streams and improve water quality as well as wildlife habitat. Something as simple as fencing cattle out and planting trees native to the region can mean improvements in the health of a stream, he said. Just because there is vegetation around a stream, it does not mean it is the right kind for the overall health of the stream, Dattilo said.

Once the vegetation has been planted along Wilson Creek, the stream project will continue to be followed and monitored over time to determine the overall success, as well as to see what needs to be changed for future projects. 

“The work of all the groups makes it a successful project,” Dattilo said. “It’s been interesting and it’s been nice to work with the different disciplines."



Writer: Laura Skillman  270-365-7541 ext. 278