It is a proven game plan – assemble some energetic volunteers on a project, give them a bit of instruction and point the way.
Cleaning up a creek on a cold wintry day doesn’t have the earmarks of an ideal undertaking, but a couple of dozen people went ahead and met the challenge in Conway on a recent Saturday.
The work was on Tucker Creek, a stream that rises in northern Conway and wanders generally southwest to empty into Tupelo Bayou, which empties a few miles downstream into the Arkansas River.
The significance of the cleanup work was twofold.
First, a major Conway recreation facility runs along the stream — the Tucker Creek Trail that is used by walkers, runners, bicyclists, birders and just people seeking some moments of relaxation not far from home. Second, the creek is a spawning area for a variety of fish and aquatic life including, possibly, alligator gars.
The cleanup was partnership event led by the Stream Team unit of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, by the Arkansas Rivers Association and by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
The trail along the creek runs a little over a mile and a half in Conway, and it is heavily used. Unfortunately, heavy usage results in litter. Trash rolls and blows downhill, meaning into the rock-laden creek. To get to the trash, the volunteers wearing boots had to get off the trail and to the edge of the water. A couple of canoes were available to reach spots deeper than boot height.
Each worker was given a lightweight pickup tool and a trash bag. They worked in pairs using two types of trash bags, one for garbage and another for recyclables. Angie Howard of Conway’s Sanitation Department gave instructions on what could be recycled and what was garbage. Styrofoam, plastics, aluminum cans and glass mostly was recyclable.
The volunteers were offered gloves and a word of caution. "Be careful if you find needles and razor blades. Put these in something so they won’t be a danger." The Tucker Creek Trail is in use day and night.
Steve Filipek of the Game and Fish Commission heads its Stream Team operation. A fisheries biologist, he touched in the importance of small creeks like Tucker in the habitat and reproduction world of aquatic life. He answered a writer’s question about alligator gars. "It is amazing how those big fish spawn in water so shallow that their backs stick out of the water. They lay eggs which attach themselves to blades of grass."
Alligator gars live in the Arkansas River, although heir numbers have declined in recent decades. Mark Spitzer of the University of Central Arkansas faculty has a long-time avocation of looking for alligator gars and has reported the possible use of Tucker Creek for spawning grounds by the big, often called prehistoric, fish.
Other types of fish associated with major rivers like the Arkansas also travel upstream into creeks for spawning. Striped bass, white bass, crappie and other species in the river go into tributary creeks to reproduce.
Volunteers on the Tucker Creek cleanup included people with Southwestern Energy and some undergraduate and graduate students from UCA, several of whom had been on the creek for class-related field research work.
Matthew Irvin, another biologist with the AGFC Stream Team, told Courtney Spradlin of the Conway Log Cabin Democrat that Tucker Creek is home to ducks, cranes, frogs and turtles, along with fish. "This (cleanup) is for them. We want to make sure it is clean for the fish and the wildlife."
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.