By SHEA STASKOWSKI
What started as a drainage problem for the neighbors of Pleasant Acres became a community effort to preserve a tributary of Hollis Creek.
“Pleasant Acres is one of Starkville’s oldest neighborhoods, and when it was originally developed, a lot of area around it was not — particularly the area upsrteam,” said City Engineer Edward Kemp. “Once those areas were developed, it caused storm water runoff, and some of the drainage infrastructure is not able to handle today’s volume of storm water.”
For the Pleasant Acres subdivision, the storm water runoff results in stagnant water in the roads, yards and creek. Out of the roughly 80 homes in the neighborhood, 20 border the creek and are directly affected by the water runoff.
What motivated the neighbors to take action was a letter sent by the city a year and a half ago for a construction easement.
“The city sent a letter telling us they were going to pave the creek, and that just sounded a little drastic to us,” said Marilyn Warburton, a Pleasant Acres resident.
The letter prompted Warburton to contact Kemp in an effort to save the creek, yet find a way to still address the drainage problems.
“In discussions with Ed between myself and Jimmie Richardson (Pleasant Acres resident), it became clear that the work will not actually happen that soon, and it may be up to two years before they get to it, during which time, budgets cuts could stop the project all together” Warburton said. “In addition, the work plan was not entirely clear, and questions regarding causing faster water flow or removal of trees were not entirely answered.”
With so much uncertainty in the city’s plan and the possibility of losing the creek and surrounding trees, Warburton and Robbie and Jimmie Richardson began to brainstorm ideas to address the problems.
The group quickly sent out a letter to all neighbors of Pleasant Acres explaining the discussions they had had with Kemp, and they included a survey regarding the creek and the issues it is causing. The survey allowed neighbors to share their input on what concerns they have regarding the creek, what they like best about the creek as a feature of the neighborhood and what they think should be done to help the situation.
Warburton received an overwhelming response from the neighbors, who said they wanted to try to keep the creek as it serves as a place for the neighborhood children to play, a home for wildlife and it provides valued green space in the area.
With the results from the survey clear, Warburton and the Richardsons began talking to Kemp about what they could do as a community to address the issues themselves. They also consulted faculty members in the Mississippi State Landscape Architecture Department for their help as well.
With so many of her neighbors aware and involved in the drainage issue, Warburton decided to see how the community felt about rolling up their sleeves and working on the problem themselves.
Again, the response was overwhelming as the majority of the neighborhood volunteered for a cleanup day in the creek.
“We wanted the creek to be an asset to the neighborhood and not a liability, so we scheduled a community-wide cleanup day” Jimmie Richardson said.
Warburton was even able to get Cub Pack 14 involved since her son is a scout in the pack, and the pack jumped at the opportunity to take part in a service project.
The weekend of Nov. 13, Pack 14, the neighbors of Pleasant Acres, the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, Tim Schauwecker with the MSU Landscape Architecture Department and Mayor Parker Wiseman all came out to do their part in the creek clean-up day.
“The best part about it was so many people told us it was actually a lot of fun,” Warburton said.
“It was neat for me to see how there were so many people who were willing to get involved,” Robbie Richardson said. “Everybody had a significant job to do. It was amazing.”
“It feels good for our future, not only what we did, but also the actions we took to spur others to continue,” Jimmie Richardson added.
The first clean-up day helped clear a majority of the debris from the creek that contributed to the poor drainage, but it is only the first step in the community’s long-term plan.
“The second thing is that channel has experienced erosion over time, and they are trying to address that issue next,” Kemp said. “They are trying to establish a flow line in the bottom of the channel and then on the side slopes. They are also trying to address future erosion by planting vegetation, which is a structural component to hold those bands and keep them from washing away.”
Though the work just started, Warburton and the Richardsons are pleased with the response from their neighbors and are willing to put in the work to preserve their neighborhood, they said.
“I think it says a lot about their neighborhood that they are willing to literally roll up their sleeves and solve a problem they may not have caused but affects them directly,” Kemp said. “I think it’s a great example of how neighborhoods and the city can work together to solve a problem. The unique things about this is the community involvement, and I think they should be commended for it.”