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Each year, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network convenes a Watershed Congress Along the Schuylkill River to share information, tools, and practices for watershed protection and restoration. In March 2023, the Angelica Creek Watershed Association (ACWA) was invited to present at this gathering to share the story of Angelica Creek’s on-going restoration.

Dr. David Osgood, Professor of Biology at Albright College, and Dr. Stanley Kemp, Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Sustainability Program at the University of Baltimore, rose to the honor of representing ACWA at the Watershed Congress conference.

Together, Dr. Osgood and Dr. Kemp delivered not only a thoughtful, data-driven presentation but a heartfelt retelling of Angelica Creek’s restoration journey.

In a serendipitous stroke of luck, Dr. Osgood, a wetland specialist with expertise in floodplain maturation and restoration, arrived in Reading the same year the Angelica Creek Dam breached. Still, it would take four years for the City of Reading to officially resolve to transform the former lakebed into a public demonstration of green stormwater management and floodplain restoration, rather than rebuild the dam.

Since then, Angelica Creek’s floodplain and the surrounding park have undergone a remarkable transformation. In addition to a number of enhancements to the park’s infrastructure including a pedestrian bridge, trails, and benches, healing hands took to recovering the creek itself, sorely degraded after over a century of submersion.

The Angelica Ice Company built an earthen dam, impounding Angelica Creek and creating a 12-acre lake for ice production in 1885. By 1915, the dam and surrounding land were owned by the City of Reading, who managed the area as a city park – the Angelica Creek Park – popular among residents seeking outdoor adventure in the form of boating, fishing, swimming, and even ice skating.

In the 85 years to follow, the Angelica Creek Dam would suffer through several periods of injury and reconstruction until finally, in 2001, it could bear no more abuse. When Tropical Storm Allison dropped eight inches of rain in just 24 hours, the overwhelming deluge of water caused the Angelica Lake Dam to breach.

Angelica Creek’s banks were regraded and stabilized; legacy sediments leftover from the dam were dredged; a wetland complex to filter runoff and recharge groundwater were installed; and various native plants from trees to pollinator-friendly flowers have been planted to protect the creek and provide wildlife habitat.

Aerial photo of Angelica Lake in 1994, before the dam breached.

Aerial photo of the Angelica Creek flowing through the former lake bed in 2003 following the dam breach.

Throughout this restoration, members of ACWA have tracked the creek’s health, the interim results of which were the primary focus of Watershed Congress presentation.

Dr. Osgood shared his research on aquatic macroinvertebrates, those critters who make their living underwater and are visible to the naked eye but have no backbone. Our creeks and rivers are filled with macroinvertebrates, tucked among leaves and clinging to rocks and roots.

These animals, often overlooked by the public, are invaluable indicators of stream health; who you find living in a stream can reveal a lot about the water’s physical condition and quality.

Starting in 2005, Dr. Osgood and his students began monitoring the macroinvertebrate community at both the restoration site in Angelica Creek Park, but also at a reference site upstream of the floodplain restoration, in Nolde Forest State Park where an exceptionally healthy portion of Angelica Creek flows.

Early on, the restoration site’s macroinvertebrates shared little resemblance with Nolde Forest’s reference community. Most notably, the restoration site’s Family Biotic Index score was significantly poorer compared to the reference site. In other words, the pollution-sensitive macroinvertebrates found at Nolde Forest were mostly absent at the Angelica Creek Park.

That started to change in 2015, six years after the floodplain restoration was completed. Since 2015, the restoration site at Angelica Creek Park has consistently earned Family Biotic Index scores that are comparable to Nolde Forest’s macroinvertebrate community! The creek flowing through the restored floodplain can now support macroinvertebrates that require clean, cool, and healthy water.

Angelica Creek’s recovery is apparent in other ways as well. Dr. Kemp described changes to the fish community as Angelica Creek transitioned from a lake ecosystem into a free-flowing stream once more. New species of fish that prefer stream habitats have moved in at Angelica Creek Park. In fact, the reach of Angelica Creek that flows through the park is home to 13 unique fish species!

Mirroring the findings of Dr. Osgood’s macroinvertebrate research, several of these fish species, including the tessellated darter, comely shiner, and even a naturally reproducing population of brown trout, are intolerant of pollution; a testimony to the creek’s newfound health.

Dr. Osgood and Dr. Kemp concluded their presentation by elevating ACWA – its clean up efforts, its educational presence in the watershed, its impressive network of local partners, its water chemistry monitoring, and its recent petition to redesignate the entire Angelica Creek watershed as Exceptional Value, adding a higher level of protection to the on-going restoration and the watershed’s remarkable recovery.

It was a proud moment for ACWA, for although the watershed association is a program of Berks Nature, who provides support, resources, and guidance, at their core ACWA is a volunteer-driven organization.

ACWA volunteers collected data on Angelica Creek’s health; ACWA volunteers have identified both emergent concerns and celebrated unique discoveries; ACWA volunteers initiated the now in progress petition to redesignate and secure greater protections for the Angelica Creek watershed.

Berks Nature is proud to count the members of ACWA as part of their family and to support this dedicated, passionate group of watershed residents modeling conservation as a community value.

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