By Ben Weyman
On Aug. 31, 2021, York College students received an emergency email from the school outlining the plan for Tropical Depression Ida’s heavy rainfall. The alert was sent just after noon on Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning the Tyler Run Creek had flooded and canceled in-person classes for the day. The alert had ensured that no person or property was significantly damaged, but could the flooding have been avoided entirely?
The Tyler Run Creek is a major landmark on the campus of York College of Pennsylvania. Pictures of the creek adorn the school’s website, and students drive through the creek to get to their classes. Prospective students are shown the creek in all its glory during their tours.
Before York College occupied its current campus, the land was a golf course, with the creek being a water hazard. The school opted to keep the creek and used it as a dividing line between parts of the main campus.
The creek offers academic value, as the science departments study it and the life it inhabits. Geology classes will ask students to collect rocks from the banks to study erosion. The creek, whether students directly interact with it or see it from afar, is a major part of student life on campus.
When the weather turns dour, however, the creek becomes a major hazard for the campus and students alike.
When the dust settled, Ida had dumped roughly 6.5 inches of rain on central Pennsylvania. While that figure seems small, the reality is that it was a catastrophic amount. Around Pennsylvania, hundreds of people lost their homes or were displaced. On the YCP campus, 6.5 inches was enough to flood an entire parking lot and even enter a building.
This is not the first time the creek has flooded in 2021– last spring, heavy rainfall caused the creek to escape its banks and flood the Beard Hall parking lot. Even back in the 1980s and ‘90s the creek would routinely flood.
On average, the creek floods three times every academic year to varying degrees of severity. These floods, before the rise of Zoom calls, fully cancelled classes and on-campus events.
If the creek is such a major hazard, why has the school chosen not to change it? Altering a creek is not easy, according to YCP president Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith.
“The stream is doing what streams do … the banks are eroding, the creek is making its own pathway through,” says Gunter-Smith. “We have some long- range plans that would divert the path of the stream,” she adds, but there’s no start date for construction at this point.
The Tyler Run Creek separates the back end of main campus (freshman residence halls, chapel, and the softball field) from the rest of main campus. There are two access points to cross the creek: a vehicle-only ramp that goes through the creek itself and a footbridge a few hundred feet upstream. When the creek floods, both of these access points are inaccessible, isolating a large part of campus.
“We have looked at putting a bridge over it, but it would be very difficult because it’s a small space,” Gunter-Smith says. “It’s not feasible.”
“It’s not feasible” is a perfect way to address most proposals to improve the creek. Adding walls to the banks to increase the maximum height of the banks? Putting a larger bridge over the creek? Raising the height of the entire campus? None of these options, for one reason or another, are feasible.
So what can the school do?
For starters, Gunter-Smith says that the school could do a better job of informing students.
“We’re trying to do a better job of informing students if there is a chance of flooding,” she says. Now, students receive three alerts from the school” email, text and a notice on the school homepage. She did not propose any other mediums of notification, but push notifications through various YCP smartphone apps could become an option in the future.
Ida’s rainfall will likely not be the last time the creek floods this year,or even this semester. Improvements to the creek are fairly far down on the school’s list of priorities so, for now, check your email and your texts when it rains – the best way to fix the creek is to let it run its course.
Ben Weyman is a junior at York College of Pennsylvania majoring in Mass Communication.