Alamance Creek Week kicked off Saturday afternoon, April 6 at the new Cates Farm Park outside of Mebane off Highway 119 with a BioBlitz. Located along Mill Creek, the purpose for the event focused on taking an inventory of the native plants and animals that inhabit the new park.
The sunshine and light breeze allowed children and adults to go on two separate tours around the park. The first tour focused on the meadow and the woods led by Stormwater coordinator Phil Ross. The second tour was led by Emily Sutton and Brooke Massa and focused on wildlife and waterway preservation.
Mebane Planning and Zoning director Cy Stober said Cates Farm Park is a 54-acres property with half of it needing conservation.
“It is yet not improved and there’s no formal trails. The barn has just been waxed so it no longer decays any further until we get it renovated. We don’t have a formal parking lot or bathrooms yet, but we’re working on it,” Stober explained. “We just opened this up and this is the first event at Cates Farm Park.”
Stober said the city has been working on the project with the non-profit Unique Places to Save on a master plan for the park.
“They advised doing a BioBlitz as a way to collect data on the plants and animals that are in the park. It’s about having trained professional take the general public around to collect data that includes direct data of what you see and what you can pick off the ground, as well as data of what you can take a photo of and indirect data of animal tracks or pollen.”
Stober said, “a BioBlitz is an opportunity for college students that we’re working with at Elon University, as well as David Harper and our colleagues at Unique Places to Save to train children on how to run around in the meadows at Cates Farm Park.”
Sophomore Emmanuela Salecki at Elon University said she came to the BioBlitz because she wanted to engage with the community and hopefully make new friends.
“I was interested in [BioBlitz] and I’ve already a new friend,” she said.
Salecki is studying environmental science and ecology and hopes coming to the event will learn more about the environment. She skipped out on the first tour because it focused more on plants.
“They’re looking at plants and I’m not well-versed in plants. I am more interested in the animal aspect of today,” she said.
Haw River Assembly keeper Emily Sutton said she prepared watershed ecology stations for BioBlitz.
“We’re trying to encourage kids and families to protect wildlife and to protect streams, improve stream life and be connected to nature. Just getting kids and families out here to explore the forest, the fields and the streams is how you develop a connection,” she said.
Sutton said Mebane is in the Haw River watershed and Mill Creek runs through Cates Farm Park.
“Mill Creek flows into Graham-Mebane Lake, which holds the drinking water supply. There are two other streams that come from Mebane into the Haw River watershed and Mill Creek is the healthiest of all of those,” Sutton explained. “Mill Adams Creek has been impaired it drains to the wastewater treatment plant and Little Haw Creek drains to Tanger Outlets.”
Sutton said a way to test the water for pollution is through insects that live in the stream.
“Some insects are pollution sensitive and they tell us a lot water quality health. If the water is polluted insects won’t be there they would just die,” Sutton said. “The farm was degraded before due to the cattle that were in the stream and because of runoff. Now that it’s preserved we’re hoping to see the creeks bounce back and be even more healthy than they are now in just a few years.”
Children spent time looking through magnifying glasses at samples of backbone vertebrae after walking along Mill Creek as Sutton stopped and named several plant species. Sutton explained about Sticky Willy.
Sutton said,“It doesn’t look very cool and it looks like a plain old green plant, but it sticks to you,”
Currently, construction for the new park has not begun. Stober said he expects the construction to begin this summer.
“We hope to have the project completed by next year. The trails will be completed with a couple months after construction begins,” Stober explained. “After the trails, the treehouse playground will be constructed. The fixing up of the barn will take longer.”
When completed the park will have two and a half miles of natural trails and playground in the trees.
“This isn’t going to be a tradition playground, it’s off the ground and we are able to do this because we received a $250,000 grant from Impact Alamance,” Stober said. “All the active recreational elements and all the trails and playground will all be paid for with Impact Alamance funds.”
Stober said he hopes more events will happen at Cates Farm Park and hopes the community will enjoy it.
“It’s a place where the community come out and enjoy nature,” he said. “This park will be different from the other parks in Mebane because of the treehouse playground and terrain for the trails.”