This section of the White Clay isn’t special by most people’s standards. It is suburban, tucked into the folds of our urbanizing existence, out of sight and mind to most. It is dammed, and sedimented and takes polluted runoff. But it is still special like all rivers and streams. There are no throw aways. The dam traverse is going to be a 10 mile down river snorkel. The purpose is to raise awareness about the White Clay and dam removal efforts designed to restore migratory fish that have historically flooded this creek with life. Each spring herring and shad pushed upriver to spawn, and the dam traverse hopes to bring that story to the public consciousness. But the dam traverse is also a celebration of the White Clay, of the stream that remains, and the hope of its complete restoration. This trip was just a short jaunt to help get me used to the river, aware of its character so I better know what to expect during the 10 mile descent.
The bottom is embedded in sand and gravel, so the habitat isn’t too diverse. Tires are washed into the stream bed and a sewer line parallels the creek in its floodplain. Broken glass is common among the quartz pebbles, and almost looks like it’s supposed to be part of the substrate. A merganser pair slaps into flight as I get near to the water’s edge.
There isn’t much life beneath the surface. I don’t see any fish. There is a beaver slide carved into the side. Solitary case maker cadis grazes on one of the only exposed rocks. The current is strong, and I work hard to move upstream. The unconsolidated bottom doesn’t give me any purchase to claw against the current so for each forward move I make, I lose a half back downstream. I get winded fighting the fast water and sand bottom, but finally enter into a deeper lee. Pockmarked white clay banks wall the sides of the four foot deep pool and I wonder if this is how the stream was named. I feel like I am in a biological desert. I haven’t seen much life, nor much habitat, so I turn with the current and quickly start to flow downstream. I am disappointed that there isn’t much life here but also recognize this trip was far from exhaustive. It was just a small snapshot in this creeks biological time, and while there wasn’t much life here in the 30 minutes I was in the water, that doesn’t indicate that the White Clay is devoid of life. Another day, and other season, another time of day can reveal a biological scene completely different. But then, suddenly, I realize that a garden of web spinner caddisflies stretches before me and completely covers what I thought were barren white clay banks. Life is abundant here too, I just had to change my perspective. They were hidden on the way upstream, but the downstream view reveals their webs opened into the current. And maybe that will be the key to restoring the White Clay. Just a slight change in people’s view to show that it is an amazing creek. Hopefully the dam traverse will be one of the instigators of this transformation.