Biology students clean up polluted Texas creek

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Out of sight, out of mind didn’t sit right with the UT Tyler biology students.

Simply looking for a place to get into some mud, associate professor of biology Dr. Lance Williams and his students happened upon a crucial cleanup project at Faulkner Park.

Mud Creek is located down Faulkner Park’s walking path.

Due to a natural dam in the wooded area created by falling trees, a certain bend in the creek exhibits the perfect conditions to accumulate trash. This polluted creek flows into Lake Tyler, and eventually into residents’ drinking water, Lance Williams said.

This bend is where the Biologists of Tyler, Texas, a University graduate student group and Tri Beta, a University biological honors society, focused their efforts.

“You’d be amazed at what you find in rivers,” Lance Williams said. “From refrigerators, to garbage, to half-buried Volkswagens. People have made rivers their own personal landfills.”

“We’ve noticed over the past couple of years [that Mud Creek has] really been accumulating trash and this rivers flows into the water supply of Lake Tyler,” University graduate student and public outreach director of BOTT Brianna Ciara said.

Instead of seeing this local pollution and moving on, past and present students in Lance Williams’ class created a plan to fix it.

The cleanup crew met on campus at the University Riter Millenium Carillon Tower at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 25 to caravan to Faulkner Park.

“It just got to the point where somebody had to do it and being biologists we need to set an example for the rest of the community,” senior biology major and president of Tri Beta Katelyn Bryant said.

For hours, students splashed waist-deep in the muddy creek, picking up trash and enjoying their morning restoring one of the most used parks in Tyler.

All the necessary equipment for the cleanup was supplied by the city program, Keep Tyler Beautiful, dedicated to maintaining Tyler’s environment. These supplies included bags, gloves, trash collectors, and a truck to collect all of the garbage and recycling, Lance Williams said.

“It’s pretty satisfying, it sounds so cliché, but it is really satisfying to get out here and see an obvious difference in just this small area, and to know that we can do that in other places,” Bryant said.

The students aren’t simply helping the environment, but bettering the community as well.

“There are hiking and biking trails all through there and I think people will enjoy the fact that it’s clean,” said Marsha Williams, a research associate in the Biology Department and Lance Williams’ wife.

But Mud Creek’s situation is special. There are plans to turn Mud Creek into a reservoir, to become a source of municipal water, Lance Williams said.

But from an ecological standpoint, these plans have mixed reviews.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department found populations of the Neches River Rose mallow on the southern banks of Mud Creek. This is a federally threatened species, L. Williams said.

This threatened species is a white wildflower found only in East Texas in habitats of standing water. Associate professor of biology Dr. Joshua Banta and his students are studying the species found at Mud Creek, to understand its conservation needs and its relationship to other mallow species in the area.

Creating a reservoir dynamically changes the ecology of a river system. The species that are housed and supported by this system wouldn’t survive the change, and this endangered flower would be lost, Lance Williams said.

But, communities south of Tyler are interested in the plan about the reservoir for the added source of water, Lance Williams said.

“The more people we can get excited about wanting to clean up and take care of our environment the better the world will be,” Lance Williams said.

Source: Patriot Talon

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