Lincoln natives might pass by the sparkling waters and mossy vegetation growing along the concrete marshbanks in south Lincoln without taking note of its excellence.
The green signs erected along its path explain to citizens that the rippling channel is Beal Slough — the only slough Lincoln has to offer. Yet onlookers scarcely understand how the steadfast waters serve the city and why its streams cut through Lincoln, flowing resolutely.
Few know Beal Slough better than Ben Higgins, superintendent of Stormwater, a division of Lincoln’s Watershed Management. His job partly involves keeping watch over the slough. He said it has been there for decades and is a product of nature’s natural redirection of extra rainfall, meaning the slough was not man-made and has an organic assignment.
Though Beal Slough is referred to as a slough, it’s hardly the marshlands its name might imply. Higgins said it operates just the same as the other creeks in Lincoln. In order to educate citizens on its presence, Higgins’ department placed signs that identify Beal Slough along the water channel’s gravelly shores.
“We just wanted to make people aware that, hey, [creeks] aren’t here just to be here,” Higgins said. “They have a function. So, we try to do a lot of education.”
It’s an important part of the river system, Higgins said, and he wants citizens who may be questioning its purpose to know it can’t be taken out. The city does, however, play an important role in keeping Beal Slough in its most ravishing state.
“The very nature of the way the earth is, if it’s gonna rain it’s gonna drain somewhere, and that’s where it’s gonna be,” Higgins said. “It was just formed naturally. You can’t just remove it. We maintain it. Over the years we’ve moved it around and done things with it and put bridges and fall brooks.”
For years, Beal Slough has been faithfully diverting excess rainwater into proper channels to keep its hometown safe and dry. Its murky wake begins in Cheney, Nebraska and snakes its way across Lincoln, sticking close to Highway 2. It empties its watery endowments into Salt Creek, where the overflow continues its journey into the Platte River, whose waves eventually become ocean water with the help of additional rivers many miles later. In short, Beal Slough is one small part of a grandiose system.
It’s a daunting task for the little slough, but the excitement of these duties have attracted a few fans along the way.
Lincoln resident Toby Hollingsworth is a longtime enthusiast of Beal Slough. He became interested in its swampy beaches as a farm boy living on the outskirts of Lincoln, swimming in it during Nebraska’s rainiest seasons and catching snapping turtles that waded in the murk.
Hollingsworth said few Lincoln residents appreciate the beauty of the slough as they should, and he hopes to see a newfound admiration for the waterway because of the importance it plays in Lincoln’s stormwater system.
“I’d like to see the reverence come back for the slough. I’d like to see people treat the slough like they used to treat it and give it the respect it deserves,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s just 10 miles of pure riparian Garden of Eden right in the middle of Lincoln.”
Hollingsworth is so passionate about Beal Slough that he, along with roughly seven of his most tributary-minded companions, have devoted themselves to raising awareness to the slough’s miry charms. The group created a Facebook page to commemorate the slough, gathering a few followers who relish it just as much.
“We were just seeing the famous Beal Slough being disparaged and looked down upon by so many places,” Hollingsworth said. “We wanted to defend the intellectual rights of the Beal Slough name … and stop seeing it being mistreated and talked about poorly. [It’s] a marketing campaign, really.”
Higgins, whose department has been an active part of moving and paving the slough, said Beal Slough is just as noteworthy as the other waterways in Lincoln.
“It forms naturally just like all the other creeks do,” Higgins said. “We have similar creeks in town. It’s a little bigger than Antelope Creek but not as big as some of the other ones we have.”
Hollingsworth and other slough fans, however, hold fast to the idea that it is a distinctly interesting body of water.
“We just want to encourage people to learn about the slough, spend some time at the slough, just get to know your slough,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s pretty much the only slough you’ve got.”