Historical background on the Wawayanda Creek

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Warwick Town Historian Dr. Richard Hull provided this historial background on the Wawayanda Creek:

The Wawayanda Creek is an approximately 15-mile watercourse that flows southwards across the Town of Warwick, passing through its village and several hamlets including Wisner and New Milford. It is geologically connected to the vast Wawayanda aquifer which is a critical water resource for much of the town and is a key tributary of the Wallkill River.

Its depth changes seasonally and can be as deep in sections as eight feet and as shallow as three feet.

• The creek quietly flows out of Wickham Lake, an ancient glacial kettle that melted more than 12,000 years ago. It also receives groundwater from the Longhouse Creek along with more than a dozen smaller tributaries.

• For centuries the Wawayanda was used by Algonquin-peaking Lenape peoples mainly for catching fish and migratory birds, trapping beaver, for drinking water and for occasional bathing and garment washing.

• From the mid-1700s and more intensively from the early 1800s , Europen-descended settlers built numerous stone dams and used the creek as an important source of hydropower for their sawmills and gristmills. The WC was also a source of water for farmers livestock.

From the 1860s to about 1950, its water was drawn to provide steam for locomotives at the Warwick rail yards and water for local milk processing.

In the 1830s, a world-famous English sportswriter often bird-hunted along the banks of the Wawayanda and wrote a bestseller on his experiences.

• In the early 20th century, with extensive tree clearance for an expanding agricultural economy, the Wawayanda Creek periodically received enormous stormwater runoff, frequently flooding fields, homes and barns.

In the late 20th century, with the decline in farming, open pasturelands reverted to water-absorbing-woodlands and water volumes in the creek decreased.

• Today, with land clearance for homes, leach fields, paved roads, commercial enterprises and municipal sewed treatment plants, the Wawayanda is increasingly active but more vulnerable to pollution.

• The creek's ecosystem is still remarkably rich in biodiversity, with many critical habitats for species of birds, waterfowl and plants.

A journey down the creek by foot or boat is like traveling through history as you pass under arched stone bridges, centuries-old stone houses, churches and gristmills sited alongside picturesque fish-filled ponds with sparkling water cascading over stone dams.

"Clearly, the Wawayanda Creek is more than a vital liquid asset," Hull added. "It has enormous recreational and educational value to ours and to future generations. It urgently needs to be preserved and protected."

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