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Deep Creek, Seemingly Pristine Waters at Risk from Acid Rain and Climate Change

 Deep Creek, The Way Through

Deep Creek, The Way Through

I recently spent a couple of days in Deep Creek camping.  The water there was seemingly pristine and beautiful.  I knew, however, that it was already impaired from Acid Rain and at risk from climate change.  Since 1991, the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains have been monitored for water quality.  The acid rain created by coal burning plants deposits sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that is deposited in the streams and along the riparian banks through rain, snow, hail and even fog and dust.  The rain then leaches nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil, raising its PH and making it more acidic.  The air pollution responsible for the issues in the creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains was improving, but now with a renewed focus on coal they are at great risk.  In 2015, before the changes in policy, it was already estimated that 200 train cars of sulfuric acid fell over the park grounds each year.  (https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/water-quality.htm)

The velocity of the water can have both positive and and negative effects. Quickly flowing water can help flush waterways and prevent bacteria from growing as quickly, but it can also harm sensitive organisms that cling to rock faces.  Elevation can have both positive and negative effects as well.  Higher streams are cooler and this supports the populations of brook trout, but the trees and ecosystems located higher up are the first recipients of acid rain.

I made the image above one evening after climbing partway down a very steep bank.  The water was stunning as it found its path through the rocks.  But as I peeked through the branches to watch, I couldn't help fearing for the fragility of these ecosystems that have endured for hundreds of millions of years until we arrived and altered the balance from afar by burning fossil fuels.

 Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Most of the stream was quite shallow, but here, just beyond a bridge over the stream, the water was very deep and we were able to take a dip the next day.  The water was still frigid, which was a good thing for the fly fisherman that are drawn to this area and for the brook trout that live in this stream.  As temperatures increase from climate change, it will alter the levels of dissolved oxygen, which will damage the gills and reproduction systems of the trout.  

 Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

For now the many visitors to Deep Creek can still enjoy this pristine stream and in the evening when everyone has gone home or back to their campsites, it is incredibly tranquil.  In fact, it was so peaceful it was hard to drag myself away and my friends were close to calling out a search party,  Below are some more images I made during this visit.  The mountain laurel was in full bloom, which was a treat to see.

 Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

 Deep Creek Riffles

Deep Creek Riffles

 Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

 Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

 Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

 Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

 Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Below are two black and white images from my visit. The first is of ledges along Deep Creek midway down the stream and the second if of Indian Falls, a waterfall along Indian Creek just before it merges with Deep Creek.

 Deep Creek Ledges

Deep Creek Ledges

 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

I also hiked the trails through the woods along Indian Creek and back up through the hills until it rejoined the Deep Creek Trails.  I saw some interesting fungi along the way, and at the top of the ridge where two trails met,  I was met by a curious deer.  We sat and looked into each other's eyes for several moments.  I took one photo with the camera I had in hand, but then I put it down since I had this feeling that I wanted to connect with the deer instead of frighten it.  The deer then walked through the woods quite near me and appeared on the other trail, pausing again to look at me.  Slowly, I made a second image, though I felt weird pointing my camera at it when the deer was allowing itself to be vulnerable. I would clearly not make a good hunter. Even taking photographs felt intrusive, so I only made these two.  I used to live in Westchester, where deer almost seemed to outnumber people, and they were quite brazen and typically seemed unconcerned with people.  But I am used to wild deer running off, so this encounter felt special. 

 Flame Fungi

Flame Fungi

 Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

 Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

 Deep Creek Deer Encounter

Deep Creek Deer Encounter