Shoal Creek is a wildlife corridor, a ribbon of habitat unbroken by the intrusions of man and urban development. Only recently have ecologists become convinced that these corridors offer wildlife an escape from the habitat fragmentation that isolates wildlife populations and exposes them to increased threats from disease, predators, and the like. Corridors also help facilitate the re-establishment of populations that have been reduced or eliminated due to random events, such as drought. The current drought, for example, has isolated small populations of fish and amphibians in the few remaining pools. Once rain returns, these populations will provide the stock that will repopulate the creek.Birds and mammals also move along the Shoal Creek corridor, taking advantage of a swath of habitat significantly larger than its discrete parks. Pease Park for example, is far more valuable for wildlife due to its unbroken connection to woodlands both north and south. The movement of coyote into the Shoal Creek watershed, for example, is being aided by the existence of this corridor.
Within this Shoal Creek wildlife corridor there is, of course, the creek. This body of water, now ephemeral, once provided a reliable source of fresh water to wildlife in the region. Dragonflies and damselflies still flourish in the watershed in wet years, as do a variety of frogs, turtles, fish, and snakes. The restoration of flows in the creek would only enhance the value of the Shoal Creek corridor, and for that reason we are committed to that goal.Tourists from around the world travel to Austin, and many take advantage of the immense population of Mexican free-tailed bats under the Congress Avenue bridge. Few know that Shoal Creek has its bats as well. Both the W 9th and the W 12th bridges host sizable bat colonies. The colony under the W 9th bridge is easily seen as it emerges each evening. Unlike Congress Avenue, the emergence here is up close and person, with bats whipping within a few inches of bat watchers.
The future of this wildlife corridor depends on conservation efforts to insure its continuity and integrity. Recent development in the lower reach of Shoal Creek is encroaching on the corridor, leaving significant breaks in the forest. For example, new development near the W 6th St bridge, as shown in this photograph, has completely eliminated vegetation on the east side of the creek. Once development scours the west side of the creek in this area, the habitat chain will be broken. There are development and planning codes to prevent this from happening, but in many cases these developers are given variances that allow them to avoid the restrictions.Shoal Creek has been fortunate; the sins of the past are sins of omission rather than commission. Even in the creek’s industrial age, a time when the Seaholm Power Plant and the Green Water Treatment facilities were at their peaks, the creek remained physically intact. Although scarred, Shoal Creek remains salvageable.
Resurrection for the creek, however, requires that the situation not keep degrading. We cannot continue to be oblivious to both the plight and the needs of Shoal Creek, and to what a spectacular asset the creek would be with a little care and a little investment. Without both, this wildlife haven will eventually devolve into a sterile cesspool, a hollow shell of what was at one time a vibrant waterway on a par with Barton Creek.