Eslava Creek winds behind Springdale Mall, the shopping center built in the 1950’s, replacing Wragg Swamp and the original creek with brick and mortar.
Decades later, the mall is nearly empty, save for a few stores that haven’t moved across the street to the new McGowin Park shopping center, and the creek neighboring it is a dumping ground for anything and everything that’s tossed in the parking lot.
“I’m finally starting to get the hang of getting in and getting out,” News 5 Assignment Editor Brad Gunther grunts as we climb into our kayaks to continue our journey.
As we paddle behind the mall, we pass by a couple rusty shopping carts partially underwater and a fully intact styrofoam cooler, packed with someone’s once-appealing lunch of potato chips, half-eaten sandwich, and bottle of Coke.
“You can see how high the water gets here after it rains by looking at all that trash caught up in the trees,” Brad says as he uses his paddle as a pointer.
Meanwhile, drone pilot Jim Johnson flies a drone camera above us, capturing what looks like an abandoned homeless camp on the bank. It’s one heavy rainstorm away from washing into the creek that seems to have more and more ways of reminding us, it’s not a ditch.
“Brad! Look! Oh my Gosh! Is that a crawfish? It’s a crawfish!” I scream, towards a tiny moving splash of water in front of us.
Brad hops out with one of the GOPRO’s to get video before it disappears down the tunnel that runs under Airport Boulevard.
“Must have been a lucky crawfish boil survivor,” I joked as Jim flies the drone towards Bel-Air Boulevard where we meet back up to continue our trip.
Compared to our comical attempt at fishing behind Walmart, this stretch of creek offers a much wider selection of fish to choose from.
Brad can’t resist casting a line but doesn’t have much luck catching anything bigger than a few inches long.
After passing under Cottage Hill Road, we can’t paddle any further thanks to a man-made spillway, so Jim takes over with the drone, while we get out to talk to Christian Miller (Mobile Bay Natural Estuary Program) and Lee Walters ( Goodwyn Mills & Cawood).
Christian and Lee are part of a team who’ve spent the last several months studying the entire Dog River Watershed, including Eslava Creek, to create a sort of “blueprint” of possible solutions to many of the issues we’ve noticed ourselves.
“The whole purpose of this planning effort is to come up with a suite of projects, we can later go back and implement,” they explain. “The Dog River Watershed Management Plan is really just a blueprint that identifies what those projects are and prioritizes them so we have the opportunity to come back and ask for more money”
It always comes down to money doesn’t it? Miller explains that there have been watershed management plans like theirs before, but the difference now is money. They’ll hope to pull from BP Settlement money, ADEM, nonprofits, grants, and the list goes on.
Walter adds that current city leaders, including the mayor’s administration, have been supportive of investing in solutions.
“We’re looking for some offline areas that we can do some storm water treatment, so when these big rains come, if you do have areas that are outside this urbanized area, you can go and kind of slow this water down a little,” Walter explains some of their ideas
“Urbanization is one of those things you can’t really stop. People have developed this area for a certain reason, and there are areas that are not developed today that will be probably be developed down the road. So, a lot of the problems we’re seeing with storm water management, whether it’s sediment or nutrients or trash, that problem’s going to remain and get worse if nothing’s done.”
They still have a couple months left of the studying phase, before they’re ready to present their plans to city leaders, but are optimistic that this could be a big turning point for the creek and the entire Dog River Watershed as a whole.
“We were in the estuary portion yesterday, and it’s beautiful, but when you get up on this end, people lose that perception,” Walters said. “Hopefully, by just connecting the dots that whatever happens in the headwaters will eventually make its way down to the estuary and Mobile Bay will help.
For more detailed information on the Dog River Watershed Management Plan, you can visit the Mobile Bay Natural Estuary Program website.