Two Sundays ago, a group of local residents conducted a cleanup of Coyle Creek; a slow-flowing, meandering waterway that is a significant tributary to the Welland River.
The lower-section of this creek constitutes an oasis of wild habitat in an otherwise increasingly developed area of southern Pelham and the western part of Welland.
While I was canoeing the creek back in the summer of 2006 I devised a plot to organize a group of local volunteers to keep the creek free of litter and carry out various conservation-related initiatives.
I did have some past experiences with Coyle Creek, as I had worked one summer for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. I had helped plant native fauna along the creek’s banks at the Welland River golf course (since renamed Pelham Hills).
As there was no community group devoted to Coyle Creek in existence yet, I decided to establish the Friends of Coyle Creek (the FCC) with the assistance of some like-minded residents.
One of the major motivations for forming the group was the fact that Coyle Creek is actually home to a colony of beavers.
Beavers were once widespread across North America, however, due to habitat destruction and trapping, the beaver’s range has been greatly reduced. Thus, Coyle Creek’s beavers are a comparative rarity in heavily populated Southern Ontario.
In order to keep the human impact on the beaver’s fragile environment to an absolute minimum, we conducted our recent cleanup via canoes. In this manner, we were able to avoid disturbing the beavers on land, where they gather wood for their lodges and bark saplings for sustenance.
The flotilla of vessels we managed to assemble consisted of a 13-foot cedar-strip canoe, a 16-foot fibreglass canoe, and a rowboat. Our little fleet travelled downstream: we started at a stone bridge that spans the creek on South Pelham road, and ended up at the Welland River.
We were determined in our efforts to remove whatever litter there was to be found—beer bottles, plastic bags, coffee cups, even part of an old stove—and to ensure that recyclable and non-recyclabe materials were kept separate.
We also removed purple loosestrife, a harmful species of weed that is not indigenous to North America, but was in fact introduced here on account of gardening centres.
Purple loosestrife chokes out native species, and if left unchecked, can monopolize entire creeks and other wetlands.
The creek itself and surrounding forests are rather beautiful.
Lilly pads dot the surface of the creek, arrowheads protrude up through the clear water, and on shores grow large oaks and maples. Both the roots and tubes of arrowheads—so called because the broad green leaves of this plant resemble an arrowhead—as well as lilly pad roots, are edible.
The creek’s shoreline had a great deal of luscious wild grapes growing, and on the banks in many spots is jewelweed. The stalks of jewelweed when crushed can be utilized as a remedy for the maddening itch caused by poison ivy.
Sunfish were observed swimming in the clear, shallow waters of the creek, and basking in the warm sun on a log was a painted turtle. In the adjacent deciduous forests were noisy grey squirrels and numerous bird species.
While we did not have any luck spotting beavers on this particular day, we did note their handiwork: pencil-shaped stumps jutting up from the banks, cut by the beavers’ strong teeth in order to use the wood for their lodges.
At least two different beaver lodges, (one of which is possibly abandoned), are on Coyle Creek. These industrious animals, an enduring symbol of Canada for nearly two centuries, build remarkable lodges partially submerged and partly on the banks, which serve as their homes.
On the whole, the cleanup was a great success, and it is my sincere hope that the creek will remain as it now is—-in all its natural splendour—for many generations to come.