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Exploring Charlotte's Little Sugar Creek

This weekend there were a couple of walks held in Charlotte to help residents pay attention to a particular part of their neighborhoods.  WFAE’s Sarah Delia checked out one of the walks that aimed to teach and show what exactly lives in our creeks. 

Credit Mary Newsom
Tony Roux stuns fish in Little Sugar Creek to show a sample of the fish that inhabit the water.

On Sunday afternoon, a group of parents, children, and curious onlookers gathered at a very sunny Freedom Park to look at something many of us walk by without much thought.

“So today we are going to do a creek walk where we are going to walk down Little Sugar Creek and look at what lives in the stream. Hopefully we'll see a good variety of fish and little bugs," says Olivia Edwards, an environmental supervisor with Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services.

She’s guiding the tour, which was cosponsored by two initiatives:Jane’s Walk and Keeping Watch.

Edwards says the best way to tell the health of a creek is the critters inside it.

“There’s more to that water than just the sound of it and it moving along and it carrying storm water. It is home to bugs and fish and those are the base of our food web. If this water is dirty, then those bugs and fish won’t be there, which is what we look for as that indicator as to whether the water is clean or not.”

As the walk goes on Edwards points out the various creatures you’d expect to see along Little Sugar Creek.

Then it’s time for the main event.

Edwards and a few of her colleagues leave us on the trail to gather some additional equipment. She re-emerges with nets, a bucket, a tray, and sporting heavy-duty rubber boots. Her colleague Tony Roux  is wearing a matching pair, although he has some extra gear…a large box strapped to his back, attached is a long pole.

Think the creek version of Ghost Busters and you get the idea.

“I’m going to demonstrate how we sample the fish in our streams," Roux says. "We could go out with a hook and line but it will take us a long time...We won’t find the little fish. I’m using the old fashion way. Electricity.”

Roux and Edwards step into the creek. He dips the pole into the water, flips a switch, and stuns the fish.

Roux says the electricity shouldn’t kill the fish; it’s kind of a like a “one-two” stun punch.

Edwards scopes the fish with a net and pours them into a tray for the kids to get a closer look.

“So we want to see babies and mommas and daddies...We look at the fish to see if they have sores. If they do, they’ve been exposed to something or stressed. These fish, I don’t see any sores on them. That’s a good thing they are healthy fish,” says Edwards.

Roux adds there is a variety of fish in the tray: Minnows, a swallowtail shiner, and a redbreast sunfish.

Roux holds it in his hands, excited to see the redbreast sunfish in particular.

“If you don’t find one of these in your streams, you don’t have fresh water," he says.

The fish quickly slips through his hands. It would like to get back to the fresh water.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.