Town Branch Creek significance ties to NSU
TNE Editor
/ Categories: Feature, Campus, Local

Town Branch Creek significance ties to NSU

Published 10/25/17

Taylor Brown

TNE Writer

The Town Branch Creek, located most notably to the north of The Branch, serves many purposes in Tahlequah and on NSU’s campus. When Seminary Hall was rebuilt in 1889, it served as a dorm building with a kitchen. For this reason, Seminary Hall was purposely placed near the creek so the creek could serve as a water source for the kitchen and for the students living in the building.

There are a number of springs, or underground caves, located underneath the buildings of NSU. These springs catch groundwater and transport it to the creek. The creek itself begins as a pond at the United Methodist Children’s Home west of campus and the springs throughout town continually add to it.

“The type of geology we have (karst geology) allows for a lot of springs all over town,” said Jahna Hill, City of Tahlequah storm water manager. “The springs under the buildings aren’t used for anything, but there are so many things we could do with them.”

Although the creek no longer provides a direct source of water to NSU, it is still used in an educational way. The biology department, specifically the ecology course, studies the creek and the organisms within it every spring. Dr. Michael Shaughnessy, assistant professor of biology, has taught the course for seven semesters since coming to NSU in January 2014.

“We have an experiment where the students collect invertebrates, mostly insect larvae, and they count the numbers and the species of larvae," said Shaughnessy. “The next week they analyze the data to determine if there are differences between the numbers and the types of insects that occur in three different locations in the creek. There’s a number of invertebrates that they wouldn’t see normally. For instance, there are some flatworms, leeches, that they always collect. Mostly we use the creek to demonstrate experimental design.”

Hill said the creek is also home to five species of fish and some aquatic bugs that only exist in this region.

The creek is an outstanding water source because it flows directly to the Illinois River. For this reason, it is important the creek is taken care of. Water that flows into manholes, as well as water that is flushed or run down sinks in houses, is treated by the wastewater treatment plant; the creek water, however, is not treated.

The creek is currently on the 303(d) list, a list of impaired water bodies. The creek is proven to house E. coli, a bacteria transmitted through human and fecal matter. In order to get the creek removed from the “dirty water” list, the water must be sampled multiple times over the span of a few years. One way to minimize the bacteria in the creek water is to clean up after any pets near the creek.

Everything that runs down the street during a storm and goes into a storm drain goes directly to the creek. Aside from pet waste, there is an abundant amount of trash, lawn chemicals and oil or antifreeze that washes into the creek. Because this water is untreated, all of that flows into the Illinois River.

“I absolutely think it is important to keep the creek clean,” said Alisha Fletcher, Houston, Missouri senior. “The creek feeds straight into the Illinois River, which is a favorite pastime for students. If the creek isn't kept clean, particularly in regards to E. coli, access to the river could also be limited or shut down for safety.”

As a way of encouraging cleanup and care of the creek, Hill organized a watershed group called Friends of Town Branch Creek. The group meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at Brookside House. In the group, ideas, concerns and potential solutions are discussed. Hill has also spearheaded an “Adopt a Creek” program through the group.

For more information about Friends of Town Branch Creek and the “Adopt a Creek” program, visit the group’s website or email

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