Riparian Buffer at North Park
A riparian buffer is a zone of vegetation surrounding a stream that helps reduce the impacts of nearby activities on water quality. Here at North Park, the Sacony Creek is a high quality stream that forms the heart of a distinctive riparian corridor that must be both protected and expanded to ensure the purity of the water for enjoyment by local people and wildlife.
Historically, riparian vegetation, particularly trees and shrubs, was often removed on farms and in cities due to general lack of awareness of the importance of the riparian community. Today, we know that the riparian vegetation is a vital component of a healthy ecosystem creating clean water necessary to maintain a healthy environment not only for wildlife living in and around the creek but also for our own drinking water.
Importance to Water Quality in the Sacony Creek
The vegetation that surrounds the Sacony Creek plays a unique role in the life of the stream. The tall riparian trees shade the water, thereby reducing the temperature of the stream and making it suitable for fish that rely on the high oxygen content associated with cool water. The herbs, shrubs, and trees flanking the stream filter surface rainfall runoff water from the fields and lands surrounding the creek. Both sediment and mineral nutrients are trapped, or taken up, by the plants in the riparian corridor to help them grow. They also filter out pollutants, such as pesticides from farm fields or salt from roads. Further, the vegetation closest to the creek stabilizes the bank to reduce erosion and the specialized wetland plants help take up water and limit flooding.
Benefits to Kutztown Residents
The riparian buffer along the Sacony Creek has important benefits to Kutztown residents. The wells that supply the borough’s drinking water are located near the Sacony Creek and Marsh. These are shallow wells that are strongly influenced by surface water and rainfall runoff water. Riparian vegetation protects the high quality of water in our wells in the same way it protects water in the Sacony Creek. In addition to these important benefits, the riparian buffer offers residents recreation opportunities in town and at North Park. The Sacony Trail follows the Sacony Creek through Kutztown as do trails at North Park. Short hikes along the creek are combined with wildlife observation and native plant enjoyment. The Sacony Creek is also a stocked trout stream and there are many locations to fish for Rainbow and Brown Trout.
Special Plant Community
A healthy riparian corridor includes herbs, shrubs, and trees that are classified into zones, with the first zone consisting of the plants closest to the stream which provides a stable environment closest to the stream. The second zone consists of trees and shrubs that are the first plants to capture soil and nutrients that runoff from fields, suburban yards, and parking lots. The combination of available water and nutrients makes riparian vegetation especially productive here. Through much of North Park, the Sacony Creek’s riparian buffer is a healthy forest with many layers, which include large canopy trees, small subcanopy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. The area houses many plants that are wetland specialists like skunk cabbage and silky dogwood. There are even a few species growing here that are considered rare or threatened with extinction in Pennsylvania. Our riparian buffer at North Park houses a diverse native plant community that adds beauty to this natural landscape.
Benefits to Wildlife
Riparian buffers are known for their rich biological diversity, with several animal communities found living in close proximity to one another from the fish, insects, crayfish, aquatic snails, and freshwater mussels found in Sacony Creek, to the many birds and mammals that visit the creek or the stream to find a rich source of food. Trees provide shade to keep the water cool and the leaves they add to the water feed the aquatic invertebrates which ultimately provide food for fish populations. The streamside vegetation is home to many unusual wetland specialists, such as mink and northern water snakes, that you might not expect to find in Kutztown. Many species of birds also rely on riparian vegetation for nesting habitat. Wood Ducks nest in natural cavities or nestboxes built for them in trees adjacent to the creek. The brightly colored Yellow Warbler nests in riparian shrubs close to the creek as well. The native plants in the riparian buffer are crucial because these support herbivores and insects which are at the base of the food chain and support the entire community of animals here. For example, caterpillars that feed on leaves of our native trees are fed to chicks in Yellow Warbler nests or escape being eaten by birds and produce beautiful swallowtail butterflies. The riparian buffer also provides a long corridor that allows many animals to move between larger areas of natural habitat.
Interested in Volunteering?
If you would like to volunteer to help conservation efforts in the riparian buffer at North Park, please email the Borough of Kutztown’s Environmental Advisory Commission at email@example.com.
For more information about the benefits of riparian buffers or how to improve streamside habitat on your property, please visit these links.
The North Park education sign project was funded by an education grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to Todd Underwood and Christopher Sacchi of Kutztown University. Assistance for this project was also provided by the Public Works Department and Environmental Advisory Commission of the Borough of Kutztown and Kutztown University. We thank Michael Tripoli for his original rain garden artwork. William Brown and Nathan Lewis allowed us to use their photographs. We also thank Shireen DeNault for design advice.