Creek Studies

The Town of Normal has adopted an updated philosophy for managing detention basins, ditches and stream buffers and is dedicated to doing a better job moving forward of maintaining these areas throughout Normal. The philosophy was created collaboratively with the McLean County Ecology Action Center, Illinois State University and experts at Cardno, an agency dedicated to improving physical and social environments that make a difference in people’s lives. 

This collaboration aims to better inform residents about these practices and create awareness about how they benefit the environment. Residents have expressed concern about the impact the new maintenance philosophy and practices have on the wildlife, insects and vegetation.

Through the collaboration, the Town of Normal, the Ecology Action Center and Illinois State University have identified mutually beneficial opportunities for meaningful student involvement. As a result, as of Fall 2021, two efforts underway to learn more about creeks, detention basins, ditches and streams.

Identifying active wildlife 

Animal cameras have been erected in Anderson Park and at Hidden Creek Sanctuary to identify and count the animals active in these areas. These areas represent work that has already been completed (Anderson Park) and work scheduled to be done in 2022 (Hidden Creek). 

The trail cameras focus on the ground level and the animals traveling through. Should any images of people be captured (most likely feet/legs), the images will not be saved and will be deleted. Data and images from this project will be publicly available (eventually include link to where the images can be viewed). 

For questions about this study, contact:

Dr. Catherine O’Reilly, Illinois State University
Cathy Oloffson, Town of Normal

Fairview Park Bridge

Vegetation and insect data collection

In September 2021, Illinois State University students are using areas around the Town of Normal as labs, collecting data about vegetation and insects where work has already been completed, as well as areas where work is planned. Students will be collected data along/at:

  • Sugar Creek 
    • Blair to College
    • Anderson Park, College to Vernon
    • Vernon to Towanda Ave.
    • East of Towanda Ave. 
    • Towanda to Blair
  • Fairview Park 
  • Hidden Creek Sanctuary
  • Eagle Creek Detention Basin 
  • Heather Ridge Detention Basin 

For questions about this work, contact:

Dr. Victoria Borowicz, Illinois State University
Cathy Oloffson, Town of Normal


Students gathering environmental data

Creek FAQs

Why have these areas been allowed to deteriorate?

The Town of Normal is dedicated to doing a better job of maintaining these areas throughout Normal. 

In 2018, the Town of Normal adopted a stream buffer ordinance to protect, establish and maintain vegetation in buffer and wetland areas to help address excessive erosion and promote a more natural environment. 

The ordinance established new methods for maintaining vegetation in these areas and established protection of water quality, effectively changing the way the Town maintained these areas and the frequency with which they are mowed. The Town does not wish to see areas of overgrowth or extreme weediness any more than citizens; however, it is taking time to implement these new practices.

Why doesn’t the creek in my area look like the area across the street?

When the Town adopted new practices, these stream buffer and detention basin areas were in various states of repair, from newly restored areas to areas with considerable overgrowth with trees and other vegetation. The Town implemented a five-year plan to address these areas and contracted with a company to a initiate the remediation.  

Why can’t I put my grass clippings in the creek?

Dumping grass clippings in the creek or along detention basins harms the waterways and creeks. Decomposing yard waste creates more nitrogen and phosphorus which results in more algae. Throwing leaves and grass clippings into streams, ponds and waterways causes water pollution. And, the added leaves and grass clippings decrease water storage capacity.

What kind of chemicals are used in spraying? 

Chemicals used to treat these areas are environmentally friendly.

Why doesn’t the Town mow as frequently as it used to?

The Town of Normal has adopted a more natural approach to maintaining these areas. Each area is different and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Mowing frequency is determined by many factors, including weather, the time of year, staffing availability and access. Hot, dry summers slow growth and lessen the frequency of mowing times, while summers with more rain lead to accelerated growth.

Illinois State students use creek as natural lab

Students reviewing materials in a laboratory
Students gathering environmental data
A petri dish of insects