DAVIDSON – In recent meetings, town officials have stressed the importance of an enduring strong relationship with Davidson College and improved cooperation with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The rescue and planned restoration of a streambed and surrounding property behind Davidson Elementary School is an example of those partnerships at work.

Not too many years ago, a low-lying wooded area behind the school, 635 South St., was a multi-purpose outdoor classroom for DES students.

“From what I understand, it was used for class projects, little field trips, where the students could see plants or animals or put up birdhouses,” Principal Dana Jarrett, in his sixth year at DES, said. “The PTO put up a little bridge over the streambed, and it was basically an outdoor classroom.”

But over time, water draining from nearby neighborhoods and surrounding higher ground caused extensive erosion. Creek banks became unsteady, the bridge fell, the stream bed transformed into a gully and, as the terrain became more uncertain and regularly waterlogged, the class trips ended.

But through the efforts of Brad Johnson, an associate professor of environmental studies at Davidson College and chairman of the Mecklenburg County Soil and Water Conservation District, and 2016 Davidson graduate David Rogers, the foundation is in place for the town to perform a complete restoration of the property.

Rogers, a environmental studies major and a former student in a Johnson-taught geology class, tackled the runaway erosion as a research project. With help from Johnson and some Davidson classmates, Rogers monitored, marked and measured the streambed and compiled the data demonstrating that the escalating issue warranted attention.

David showed that the erosion problem was much bigger than we thought,” Johnson said, “and that the gully was migrating at a much faster rate than we thought.”

Doug Wright, the town’s director of public works, agreed, saying the scale and pace of erosion could have eventually caused problems beyond the school’s natural area, threatening nearby streets.

“The student’s monitoring was really important,” Wright said, “because the acceleration was not on our radar.”

Once the problem was discovered and defined, Johnson – through conversations with conservation district colleagues, the town, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others – helped the town apply for a Duke Energy Water Resources Fund Grant. It was a time-sensitive effort because, in referencing the challenges contractors could face in making plans to address the issues, Johnson said “the project they bid on changes every time it rains.”

The town received a $91,817 grant from Duke Energy, and work to restore the stream and surrounding property is scheduled this summer.

“Brad was instrumental in helping us get the Duke grant,” Wright said. “Our plan now is to get the work done this summer while the kids are out of school. It will also be good to have it done as CMS moves ahead with plans for a K-8 facility.”

Wright said the goal will not be to “create” but “restore.” The placement of boulders and a mix of other subtle changes will be designed to prevent erosion and allow the property to recover naturally.

For Jarrett, the restoration project would be a valuable re-addition to the campus.

“There’s some work to do,” he said, “but I hope it can be restored because it would be a great space to have again.”

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