The Association's first preserve, the 17-Acre Wood actually covers 20 acres of floodplain forest. Located in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood near NC School of Science and Math, the preserve extends from Albany St. to Maryland Ave, on both sides of the creek. The Preserve complements two city parks, Indian Trail Park and Westover Park, which border it at either end.
Since the initial purchase, in 2000, volunteers have transformed the Albany Street end of the preserve from an impenetrable thicket of invasive exotic plants into an oasis for people, wildlife, and native plant diversity. Educational signage and a kiosk aid self-guided tours. Represented plant communities include prairie remnant and wetland, in addition to the mature floodplain forest.
The paved Durham Greenway trail follows the creek through the middle of the preserve, the beginning of Durham’s West Ellerbe Creek Greenway Trail that will eventually extend under I-85, through Northpointe shopping center and over to the Museum of Life and Science. Unique among city trails, the corridor is managed by ECWA for native floodplain and prairie remnant flora rather than for turfgrass. ECWA members and volunteer groups from the EPA, Duke University, NC School of Science and Math, Research Triangle Institute, REI, and others have helped in this effort.
A major stream bank stabilization project for the creek was completed in 2012, funded by NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, with a funding matching provided by the City of Durham in the form of planning funds for an extension of the West Ellerbe Creek Trail. The newly shaped section of the creek will better absorb the force of the unnaturally high volumes of storm water that regularly flow from the watershed upstream, thus reducing erosion and sedimentation. Native plantings and invasive eradication were integral to the project.
The trail and preserve also serve as refuge for native plants rescued from development sites elsewhere in the watershed. In addition to resident wildlife like barred owls, beavers, muskrats and box turtles, the preserve provides food and resting place for migrating birds and other wildlife moving up and down the creek. 17AW has a reputation as migratory season “hotspot” among birders. Periodic sightings of wild turkey, great blue heron, deer and fox show that even an urban nature preserve can play an important role in a larger web of life.
ECWA's long-term goal is to establish a string of preserves from the creek's headwaters near Bennett Place to its terminus at Falls Lake. Our vision is of a Durham where residents can simply walk or bike to a natural area from their home or place of business and can walk or bike across the watershed stopping at preserves, neighborhoods and points of interest along the way.