The Illinois River Watershed covers approximately 1.1-million acres and includes about 1,300 miles of waterways to explore. Whatever your thrill—hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, or just meandering—the place you’re looking for can be found right here! In this edition of Watershed Journey, we’ll follow Scull Creek from its origin in Fayetteville to its confluence with Mud Creek, Clear Creek, and then the Illinois River.
On the northeastern boundary of University of Arkansas’ campus begins Scull Creek, an urban tributary of the Illinois River. Scull Creek flows northward, right through the middle of Fayetteville, nearly parallel to College Avenue/Highway 71B.
Those who are familiar with Fayetteville’s trails know that this creek inspired the central artery of the city’s trail system, as it links popular spots including the university, Northwest Arkansas Mall, Washington Regional, and numerous public parks and entertainment centers. For this reason, perhaps the number one way to navigate Scull Creek is to hop on your bicycle or lace up your running/walking shoes and follow Scull Creek Trail through the heart of Fayetteville.
Scull Creek Trail and Frisco Trail meet near Wilson Park. Photo credit: City of Fayetteville
The trail’s southern terminus is on Prospect Street near the edge of Wilson Park, where Frisco Trail heads south toward Dickson Street and Scull Creek Trail heads north. In the summertime, a lush corridor of mature trees and greenery lends shade to trail users, and after a good rain, an orchestra of frogs and gurgling water accompanies your stroll. The trail meanders directly alongside the creek for nearly 4.5 miles, from Wilson Park all the way up to the Northwest Arkansas Mall. The Scull Creek Trail’s claim to fame is its 650-foot-long pedestrian tunnel–the longest in the state of Arkansas!–that traverses beneath the Fulbright Expressway near Washington Regional Medical Center.
Scull Creek Trail at night. Photo credit: City of Fayetteville
Due to its path right through the middle of the city, Scull Creek is especially vulnerable to urban non-point source pollutants like oil, grease, litter, pet waste, and sediment. Many businesses, schools, and individuals in the City of Fayetteville have adopted watershed best management practices like rain gardens, riparian buffer zones, bioswales, and rain harvesting cisterns in order to reduce these pollutants and proactively improve water quality in the Illinois River Watershed.
One such project will be completed in the spring of 2016, when the IRWP and the City of Fayetteville install a major green infrastructure demonstration along the Scull Creek Trail at Gordon Long Park. Thanks to a grant from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, five trailheads along the Razorback Regional Greenway will contain these public features that demonstrate sound management of non-point source runoff.
This bioswale, located at the Rogers Mercy Trailhead, is one of the five Green Infrastructure demonstration features to be implemented on the Razorback Regional Greenway by 2016.
Just west of the NWA Mall, Scull Creek enters Mud Creek, which flows westward from its origin near the intersection of Mission and Crossover in Fayetteville. From the confluence of Scull Creek and Mud Creek, the stream flows northwest for less than half a mile before it empties into Clear Creek, the largest Illinois River tributary originating in Fayetteville. The Scull Creek, Mud Creek, and Clear Creek Trails converge as the creeks do at each confluence site. Clear Creek heads west, underneath Interstate 49 at the Johnson exit, and then roams southwest for approximately ten miles until it reaches the Illinois River near Lake Wedington at Highway 16.
Fayetteville trail and creek connections: Scull Creek, Mud Creek, and Clear Creek. Photo credit: Fayetteville Flyer
“Why should I care where these streams go?” you might ask. The very fact that Fayetteville is blessed with an abundance of glimmering creeks that provide commerce, recreation, and wildlife habitat; that each of these creeks is intricately connected to thousands of others in the Illinois River Watershed; that the Illinois River Watershed is part of an even larger system of watersheds that drain to the Gulf of Mexico; and that that outward-growing perception of watershed management starts right here at home, with communities and individuals holding themselves accountable for their downstream impacts……that is why it is so important to understand the paths of our local creeks and streams. When we gain a sense of place, we can then justify our personal responsibility in preserving, protecting, and restoring our watershed.
The Illinois River Watershed is a sub-watershed of the greater Mississippi River Watershed. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The IRWP is hosting a Scull Creek Cleanup this Saturday, February 7, to remove litter from its adopted portion of the Scull Creek Trail in Fayetteville. Volunteers can meet at Gordon Long Park at 1:00 PM for a brief instruction session and dissemination of supplies. IRWP staff will provide gloves, trash bags, and water for volunteers. We hope to see you out there!