Two Mary Baldwin professors and officials with the city of Staunton plan to collaborate on a project to “daylight” Peyton Creek, which runs through Gypsy Hill Park and downtown Staunton. Daylighting uncovers waterways that have previously been directed underground and aims to improve their environmental health.

Peyton Creek from Gypsy Hill Park

Peter Ruiz-Haas, professor of chemistry, and Lundy Pentz, professor of biology, contributed to a $200,000 federal grant proposal that city planners submitted in August. They will learn if the project has received federal funds in November.

“This project represents a partnership between the city of Staunton and the college,” Ruiz-Haas said. “We want to prevent the creek from running underground in a straight line and allow the water to flow naturally over rocks.”

The churning of a creek as it runs through a natural stream bed increases diffusion of oxygen into the water. Exposure to light and oxygen is essential for restoring stream life.

“We expect to see increased diversity in plant and animal life,” Ruiz-Haas said. “[Daylighting] makes the stream more natural.”

Project planners want to remove the culverts and pipes that now channel Peyton Creek. They will focus on daylighting 100 yards of the stream near Gypsy Hill Park’s baseball fields and 600 feet in front of Gypsy Hill Place. To achieve the latter part, project participants will have to remove a large, concrete culvert that dates back to 1927.

The city also plans to rebuild banks and create indigenous plant buffers along the stream. “This will prevent erosion and restore the stream bank,” said Ruiz-Haas. The landscaping will also make Peyton Creek a more attractive feature for Staunton.

Ruiz-Haas and Pentz will conduct environmental surveys of Peyton Creek and will help Mary Baldwin students perform before and after testing of water pollutants and pathogens. They will track improvements in riparian quality and hope to see the creek, whose waters eventually run into the Chesapeake Bay, become healthier.