The Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem is a spring-fed, limestone-bed, Class A Wild Trout stream, a natural wonder in an urban area.
But within the city's Monocacy Park north of Illick's Mill Road, rock check dams and railroad-tie banks give it an unnatural look while harming the ecology of the stream.
Next summer, Wildlands Conservancy is undertaking an estimated $300,000 restoration of the stream from Illick's Mill Road north to just downstream from the park's pedestrian bridge over the Monocacy. The Works Progress Administration-era dam is outside the scope of the project.
"There's so much opportunities for improvement here," said Kristie Fach, Wildlands' director of ecological restoration, during a tour of the project area Thursday.
About 25 people took part in the tour, including members of the Trout Unlimited Monocacy Chapter who are excited about the effects the plan will have on improving fish habitat. The stream now is largely unshaded, and long flat stretches heat up the water during the summertime.
The stream boasts a strong wild brown trout population, and is also wildly popular with anglers after it's stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Trout Unlimited members said.
Plans call for removing the creosote-soaked railroad ties and Gabion baskets that line the Monocacy's banks, Fach said. Infill will reduce its width by more than a foot on each side.
The rock check dams spanning the width will be replaced by V-shaped cross vane rock weirs that funnel the flow and create riffles, which are beneficial to fish and anglers alike.
It will be up to the public and city to prevent visitors from just stacking up more rocks to turn the weirs back into the rock check dams, said Fach.
Wildlands, based in Upper Milford Township outside Emmaus, worked with Bethlehem's urban forester on selecting about 10 trees for removal due to poor health, dangerous root structures along the stream or because they may be in danger of falling in coming years.
Some are non-native London planetrees that resemble sycamores, and plans call for native varieties to be planted starting out at about 8 feet tall.
"So our plans do involve removing some trees but we're going to have much more vegetation here than there currently is," Fach said.
Swaths of wildflowers and shrubs are planned along the bank, alternating with grassy areas designed for access to the stream.
Volunteers will be needed for the plantings, which will follow the roughly month-long steam construction scheduled in summer 2017, during what is traditionally a low-flow time for the stream.
The city supports the project and will look at improving parts of the asphalt path along the stream, said Jane Persa, acting director of parks and public property, and a participant in Thursday's tour.
Funding for the project is coming from conservation and flood-remediation grants, including from Northampton County Open Space, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Designed by Langan Engineering, the restoration still requires reviews by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in addition to permits from the Northampton County Conservation District and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.