Folks who live along Irwin Creek and its tributaries used to swim, fish, even hold baptisms in the waters. The city once used it for drinking water. But runoff from streets, pollution from aging sewer pipes and heavy metals from an industrial past today make the creek one of the city’s most troubled. Yet, hope remains for a better future.
One of its first tendrils begins in Ernest and Misty Eich’s backyard in northeast Mecklenburg County, a trickle you can jump across.
There, the creek curls like a question mark through a ravine’s mossy banks, beneath towering tulip poplars.
Ernest, 39, and Misty, 37, often follow the stream with their dogs, Magnum and Abigail, as the waterway leaves the shelter of their six acres to join other tributaries in Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve.1 There, the Eichs watch the stream, whose headwaters they steward, officially become Irwin Creek.
From Ribbonwalk, Irwin gathers strength and pours itself alongside Interstate 77 south, concealed from commuters’ view by curtains of kudzu, secret within steep banks. The stream reaches the heart of Charlotte and embraces its west side, moving south until it finally links with Sugar Creek near Billy Graham Parkway.
Irwin’s waters once slaked the thirst of a growing city. Its springs nourished an African-American neighborhood as it took root. Its pools cradled fish, coached swimmers, baptized believers.
But nurturing a city came at a cost.
As it flows from a nature preserve to an interstate, embracing uptown and the west side, Irwin carries in its current a city’s missteps – pollution from aging sewage pipes, heavy metals from an industrial past, runoff from acres of asphalt.
Despite all this, those who know the stream well say Irwin still holds beauty and promise. It embodies all the ills of an urban waterway, say its advocates. But Irwin Creek is no lost cause.
Read the rest of Irwin Creek’s story and watch videos, read oral histories and find out about the creeks in your Charlotte backyard at Keeping Watch on Water.