Scenes from the South Fork
Do you know your city? From the outside yes, but what about the hidden places? The places you don’t go unless you’re homeless, or want to disappear or do something illegal. A creek flows through the city; its channel is such a place. Its final fate, like most urban drainages; to transport storm sewer water. The South Fork of Beargrass Creek could be called the “ugly fork” – it’s not the one people think of when they think of Beargrass Creek. That other stream, the Middle Fork, flows through a beautiful city park, and is featured in postcard-pretty images.
But this is the South Fork, and though it gives our forest its name, there is little to recommend this dirtiest and most degraded of Beargrass’s three forks. What happens to a stream when it becomes entrapped in the urban matrix? In this photo essay we’ll visit one small section to find out.
At the back of a parking lot off of Eastern Pkwy, we part the leafy branches, and step into another reality. We’re at the top of a steep, trash strewn embankment, in heavy growth of huge bush honeysuckle – below are the concrete walls of the channelized creek.
Jutting from the hillside are chunks of brick and concrete – the remains of old buildings dumped here to shore up the embankment. Very little plant cover grows in the deep shade of the bush honeysuckle.
Further down, the dumped material covers the whole hillside in places, as trashed as any roadside drop-off in Appalachia. On the bright side, it’s good cover for snakes if there are any.
Closer to the creek, a dense tangle of down trees and grapevine is surely great wildlife habitat. Despite the degradation of the South Fork, there is this – it’s a wildlife corridor, a way for foxes, coyotes, deer and countless others to safely get around.
Stepping on the brink of the concrete channel, we’re rewarded with a graffiti gallery as engaging as anything in a museum. In fact, more so – it’s people’s art, a work in progress with many makers, varnished by the dirty waters of the South Fork.
Now we finally see the “creek”. Can anything live in this water? In the upper reaches of the South Fork, the stretches that wrap around our forest, I’ve seen carp and sunfish, red eared sliders, snapping turtles. If they get swept into this channel, it’s a one way trip to the river. When a creek loses its ability to meander and carve the landscape, when it loses its riparian zone – it loses its life.
The floodplain widens, and we tramp through a dense monoculture of Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei. It’s crept down the slope from the backyard of a grand home on the hillside above. A perfect example of why this is one of the worst of our forest invasives.
But on the edge of this takeover a colony of wild ginger thrives, apparently holding its own.
At this point we turn back, our way blocked by an impenetrable tangle ahead – a homeowner dumps their brush here.
It’s a bit hard to mentally process this landscape – so urban, so wild, so degraded, so valuable. So hidden in plain sight.
But worth seeing. I encourage you to get out and explore our urban wilds, it’s an adventure you won’t forget.