TWINSBURG — After 15 years of work, Pond Brook will soon no longer be a straight, stagnant, unshaded ditch but a meandering stream supporting a variety of fish, birds and otters.
When it’s done later this year, the $7.15 million Summit Metro Parks project will have restored about 4.6 miles of stream — more than 24,000 linear feet — and more than 100 acres of wetlands.
"We’re not even sure if there was ever really a natural stream. It might have just been a ditch," said Mike Johnson, Summit Metro Parks chief of natural resource management. "It was just a straight line. Streams don’t flow that way. They have meanders and curves to them."
Summit Metro Parks park engineer Chuck Hauber said what eventually became Pond Brook — now part of the the 3,000-acre Liberty Park in Twinsburg, Twinsburg Township and Reminderville — was dug in the 1800s to drain wetlands and other areas.
It was mainly done for farming purposes, added Ana Burns, area manager with Davey Resource Group, which also worked on the project.
"We are un-constructing a man-made structure," Hauber said. "We’re undoing what people did" in order to return the landscape to a more natural environment.
The 15-year project — likely one of the longest stream restoration projects in the state — included digging meanders, or curves, to change the flow of the stream, with the straight sections filled in.
The work also included adding riffles to help add oxygen to the water and narrowing the wide, shallow ditch.
"It’s sitting there baking in the sun. There’s little oxygen. Not a whole lot of fish can survive," Johnson said. "By narrowing the channel, you increase the base flow ... the more flow you have, the more oxygen can be in the water."
Other aspects included removing invasive species, planting native species along the banks to help shade the waterway and adding new habitats for fish.
Wooden habitat features known as lunkers are being installed in the sides of the banks, with trees planted on top to establish forests along the banks.
Davey Resource Group senior biologist Ken Christensen said the lunkers, which are a cooler hiding spot for fish, should last for decades, calling them "a little fish condo."
Root wads from trees that had to be removed as part of the project will be placed in the water to create another habitat option, Burns said.
Because the project was so large, it was broken into several phases. Up to 90 percent was covered with grants and outside funding.
The $3.75 million first phase, complete for several years, included the northernmost section of Pond Brook, with 7,000 linear feet of stream and 100-plus acres of wetlands restored. The Ohio Department of Transportation paid for much of that work because of the concurrent widening of state Route 8 in Macedonia — with ODOT required to help offset the loss of wetlands or streams, Johnson said.
Phase 2, the middle section just north of State Route 82 completed about three years ago, restored 5,000 linear feet. It was funded with a $500,000 Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grant.
The third and final phase, the southernmost section of the stream just south of state Route 82, is expected to wrap up later this year. Once it’s done, it will restore nearly 7,400 linear feet. It’s estimated at $2 million, with funding mostly coming from grants from Ohio Public Works-Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, the Ohio EPA and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
Two other projects restored a total of more than 7,600 linear feet of tributaries to Pond Brook.
Although the overall project is expected to officially wrap up later this year, planting will continue next spring, with results continuing to appear over the next several years.
"This is a long-term investment," Christensen said.
As the work continues, the stream should be able to support new fish species, like grass pickerel, creek chubs and other slow-moving freshwater stream fish. Right now, the hot, stagnant water essentially supports only carp, which Christensen called "little water pigs."
"Pretty much if we get two species, we’ve improved it by 100 percent," Christensen said.
Christensen said although otters might miss the carp, their numbers should improve with more fish diversity.
Burns said the project is also expected to help improve overall water quality in the region. Pond Brook, varying in depth from six inches to six feet, flows into Tinkers Creek, a key tributary of the Cuyahoga River — which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1969 fire this year.
Once it’s all done, the extensive work done over the years won’t really be noticeable, said Johnson, who said none of the work changes the floodplain in the area.
"Really, if you noticed all the work that went into restoring a stream after it was done, then you probably did it wrong," he said. "The goal is to put it back into a stream, a natural stream for fish and aquatic wildlife."
Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.