Exploring the creeks of Gainesville and Alachua County is a popular local pastime that should only occur from marked trails. Next week there will be a press release about a worldwide event for safely exploring the outdoors. In recent months, however, staff from the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department and the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department have seen an increase in the number of people entering the creeks and an increase in dig sites and damage caused to the creeks. A growing number of people using shovels, picks, axes, and soil sifters have been seen within the creeks.
Digging, sifting, and excavating causes erosion, destabilizes creek banks, kills wildlife within the fragile creek ecosystem, and increases the risk of flooding. Adding excess dirt and soil to the creek system damages infrastructure and property and costs taxpayers to repair. Damage to water bodies, including creeks on public or private land, is a violation of State law (Chapter 373, Florida Statutes) and the Alachua County Water Quality Code (Ch. 77, Alachua County Administrative Code). Additionally, artifacts that show evidence of past human civilization or settlement, like arrowheads, are also protected by State law (Chapter 267, Florida Statutes) and local ordinances (Ch. 116, Alachua County Administrative Code). Many local parks prohibit going off-trail, entering creeks, digging, or taking artifacts (Chapter 18, City of Gainesville Code of Ordinances). At the County level impacts to creeks and historical resources are punishable by a $125 citation or up to $15,000 in fines.
There are also health risks of being exposed to the water within the creek system. The area’s urban creeks have many sources of pollutants, including septic systems, stormwater systems, pet waste, and sanitary sewer leaks. High levels of bacteria are routinely detected, indicating the presence of human, pet, and/or animal waste in the creeks. If creek water enters the eyes, nose, mouth, or into scratches or cuts, it can lead to sickness or infections. Gastroenteritis (stomach bugs) is the most common sickness and can sometimes be serious. Ear, nose and eye infections, itchy rashes, and respiratory discomfort are also possible. Children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are always the most vulnerable.
“People want to have a close personal connection with nature in Alachua County, especially our creek system, and that should be encouraged,” said Alachua County Environmental Protection Department Senior Planner Forrest Eddleton. “Unfortunately, some people are causing major harm to public and private property, the creek system, and the environment. They are also risking their own health while doing it. The best way to visit and protect the creeks is by staying on the trails in parks like Loblolly Woods Nature Park, or you can visit our creeks virtually through GainesvilleCreeks.org.”
County staff actively enforces the Water Quality Code and responds to citizen complaints or concerns regarding impacts from digging or excavating.
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