Cleaner drinking supply starts with litter prevention

Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers partner with Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association in “Little Sweep”
May. 03, 2014 @ 12:42 PM

Environmental stewardship is a popular buzz word for many on the heels of Earth Day, but are few Durham groups take this responsibility as seriously year ’round as Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA).

Last year, more than 350 people volunteered at clean-ups or other workdays with ECWA, restoring acres of forest land to native habitat and clearing many tons of trash from around Ellerbe Creek. Land that drains into Ellerbe Creek is known as its watershed. 

A valuable partner to Keep Durham Beautiful, ECWA plans massive litter removal events within this threatened watershed that filters water into the drinking water supply for Wake County.

Keep Durham Beautiful, a nonprofit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, funnels volunteers and cleanup supplies to assist ECWA in its efforts. On May 31, the group plans “Little Sweep,” its second largest creek cleanup in 2014 to date. With enough volunteers, partners will tackle the creek from Redmill Road downstream, removing litter from the water, the creek embankments and the lake shore.

ECWA formed in 1999 when a small group of people decided to protect a degraded, weedy patch of land along Ellerbe Creek, restore it to health and make it into a nature preserve. The nonprofit ECWA has since protected 340 acres of urban nature preserves, overseen successful stream repair projects, and has introduced thousands of residents to their creek.

The Ellerbe Creek watershed includes the downtown area north of N.C. 147. Neighborhoods in this watershed include Trinity Park, Trinity Heights, Old Five Points, Old West Durham, Watts Hospital-Hillandale, Duke Park, Old North Durham, Colonial Village, and Walltown. Commercial areas include the downtown loop, Brightleaf Square, North Pointe, Northgate Mall and Ninth Street.

Water from Ellerbe Creek flows into Falls Lake. Then it flows into the Neuse River and then the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound before emptying into the ocean. City Stormwater Services staff tracks water quality at 11 sites in Ellerbe Creek, taking steps to find and reduce sources of pollution in the creek.

“Trash clean-ups like ‘Little Sweep’ help make people aware that most everything that goes onto the ground, sidewalk, or street eventually ends up in the creek,” said Chris Dreps, ECWA executive director.  “ECWA Board Member Ian Pond started little sweep two years ago, and thanks to him it continues in 2014. When people participate in creek clean-ups, they often become stronger advocates for a clean, healthy community.”

Fundraising events like the upcoming Beaver Queen Pageant attract supporters of the creek and increase awareness for the need to improve and protect the watershed. The Pageant, slated for June 7 in Duke Park, is a raucous, edgy, yet family-friendly show where the contestants all appear and compete as beavers to benefit ECWA.

In September, ECWA plans to host its First Ellerbe Creek Nature Tour. Five tour stops will offer diverse, hands-on experience for all ages, with reptiles, amphibians, fish, raptors, and a Creek Smart yard.


Tania Dautlick is executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful, a non-profit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful that engages and inspires individuals to take greater responsibility for their community environment. Focus areas include litter prevention, beautification, recycling and waste reduction.  To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit or call 919-354-2729. Be sure to like us at or follow us at