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Pollution, Wildlife and Apathy: What I Saw While Paddling Down Beargrass Creek

The three forks of Beargrass Creek wind through much of Louisville. The waterway used to be used for waste disposal…and it still takes on wastewater from time to time, when the city's sewer system overflows.But progress has been made to clean up Beargrass Creek, and today several groups went out on the water to take a look.It’s a beautiful day on Beargrass Creek. Two canoes full of people float slowly down the creek, from the flood station in Butchertown to the mouth of the Ohio River. There are people here who work for environmental groups, the city and in agriculture…and they all came to learn more about the waterway.“What is that little pipe coming out right there?” David Wicks repeats a question from one of the paddlers. He’s leading the trip. “Those are really one of the problems that our creeks have. They’re called outfalls.”Those outfalls are where wastewater pours into the creek whenever there’s enough rain to overflow the city sewer. There’s also contamination from other sources… pollution can run off paved surfaces near the creek, like the police department’s impound lot.As we drift along the creek we pass pollution. There are little patches of trash, tires, a dead furry animal floating along and a strange sheen on the water which looks (and smells) like it might have come from the sewer. There’s a whole area with sheets of concrete that Wicks says is from when the city redid the Belvedere in the 1980s, and dumped the waste on the banks of the creek.But we also see turtles, cliff swallows and black-crested night herons. The foliage is dense in places, and shades us from the sun.Wicks says it's this side of the waterway that Louisvillians don't think about.“I think the biggest problem really, with Beargrass Creek is apathy,” he said. “People think the creek is dead, that there’s no life here, so who cares.”Wicks wants more people to see the creek from this vantage, and he hopes they’ll realize that it’s still an important asset for Louisville.