Leona Creek, Where Nature and Community Thrive.

At the core of Northeastern’s green and scenic Oakland campus runs a creek that is flourishing in anticipation of the upcoming spring. Known by students and faculty as Leona Creek, this beautiful, riparian body of water weaves through the administrative and academic buildings, runs by the alumni house, teases past the art museum, and finally snakes its way through the dining halls, the library, and the science lecture hall. 

“The creek undergoes different moods with the season, just like we all do,” said Andrew Gonzales, Sustainability Manager at Northeastern’s Oakland Planning, Real Estate, and Facilities (PREF) Division. In the weeks between winter and spring, it’s wet, green, and fickle as native buckeyes and purplish Western redbuds start to grow back along with the cherry and plum trees.  

Leona Creek isn’t just a lush habitat that draws in the squirrels, birds, deer, turkey, and other wildlife coexisting with students on campus grounds; this spot is essential in cultivating community both within the institution and among neighbors – it’s been that way for over a century and a half. 

Originally purchased by founders Susan and Cyrus Mills in 1865, the creek served an essential role for agricultural needs in an era when self-sufficiency was paramount. As one of the few “daylit” creeks in the region, where the water runs above ground rather than underground, it was a valuable resource. Without it, the prospect of growing food would have been impractical, requiring a half-day wagon ride to Oakland’s central area for supplies.  

Over time, the creek has transformed from fulfilling a critical utilitarian and irrigation demand into a vibrant hub for community engagement. Events like “Creek Care Day” serve as a tradition where participants from the university and surrounding neighborhoods unite to preserve and restore the creek’s natural habitat.  

But Creek Care Day isn’t just about environmental stewardship — it also fosters a sense of community. Collaborating with the City of Oakland and other local groups, Gonzales and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that the upcoming Spring 2024 event is inclusive and welcoming to all. This collaborative effort extends not only to adjacent neighborhoods but also to the indigenous owners of the land, the Ohlone people. 

For Hanin Shehata, first-year Health Science and Business student and Eco-Rep at Northeastern’s Oakland campus, acknowledging the land as Ohlone territory was a key takeaway of last semester’s creek cleanup. “Anything we do here, we honor the land and the people of the land,” she said.   

Beyond Creek Care Day, ongoing maintenance efforts are crucial for ensuring the long-term health of Leona Creek. The Oakland PREF division plays a pivotal role in maintaining and planning for future enhancements. Facilities Ground Manager Ronald Galvan and his team of seven are the “secret superheroes”, ensuring the health and beauty of both the creek and the vast campus. Colin Paul, Program Director of Oakland PREF leads efforts to address erosion and damage to the embankment caused by a large tree falling. His team also identified the drying out of nearby Lake Aliso as part of the problem, highlighting the interconnectedness of the campus’s waterways. 

“The fact that the lake was not there to maintain even flow rates led to rushes of water when it rains hard and that contributed to the washups that we had,” explained Colin. “The intention is to correct the issues and ultimately get the lake back in service so that we don’t run into this issue again in the future.” 

Oakland PREF already has many other future projects in the books. In addition to a full restoration of Lake Aliso, plans include removing invasive plants from the creek bed, improving landscape design for erosion control and enhance access for students. 

Leona Creek isn’t just a scenic backdrop on campus; it’s a vital ecosystem and a symbol of community. From its role in historical agricultural needs to its evolution into a hub for community engagement, Leona Creek stands as a testament to the enduring connection between nature and humanity. 

As we approach the upcoming Creek Care Day on Saturday, April 6th, let’s honor this connection by joining hands with students, staff, and neighbors to preserve and restore our shared ecosystem. Together, we can ensure that Leona Creek continues to thrive for generations to come. And remember, there are plenty of other opportunities throughout the year to enjoy the creek’s beauty, whether it’s exploring the trails, participating in student clubs, or engaging in riparian restoration efforts. 

 Written By Tula Singer. April 1st, 2024