Hunnicutt Creek: History and Stream Health

Impairments to the Hunnicutt Creek watershed stem primarily from past land management practices. These practices have severely impacted the physical and ecological processes of the creek. Additionally, past land-use practices have reduced the aesthetic value of this amazing resource. Clemson University's campus history of past to present land management is one of heavy agrarian use to one of increased urbanization. See photos below.

1938 Aerial photograph of Clemson University
1938 Aerial Photograph
Image illustrating the historic land management across Clemson University campus and adjoining properties.
2018 Imagery of Clemson University
2018 Imagery
Google Earth Imagery from 2018 illustrating apparent changes to the Clemson University campus and surrounding lands.


Agricultural practices of the late 19th and early 20th century involved the straightening of stream channels to increase arable land resulting in deeply incised creek channels. These alterations limited floodplain accessibility of stormwater leading to increasing streambank and streambed erosion.

Ravine on Clemson University Property
Photo from South Carolina illustrating the severity of erosion from past agricultural land practices.


The increase of impermeable surfaces during the initial and continued build-out of the Clemson campus has created a watershed similar to one seen in any urban setting. Urban streams carry large amounts of stormwater runoff from roads and rooftops into storm sewers and later streams. This management process removes surface water as quickly as possible, creating enormous volumes of water flowing through existing stream channels. This common practice often keeps the property from flooding but does not protect natural ecosystem processes or in-stream channel stability.

Photo of N. Hunnicutt Creek
Highly Impacted Creek Channel
Photo illustrating the current condition of North Hunnicutt Creek, 2017.


The development of the watershed and influence on adjoining stream channels has negatively impacted stream and floodplain function, thereby severely limiting biological integrity. Previous land management techniques that include channel modification, clearing of vegetation, and introduction of aggressive exotic species have also compromised the physical and ecological integrity. 

Research History

Various research projects within the Hunnicutt Creek watershed have been pursued over the years. The completion of Clemson's Riparian Corridor Master Plan in 2006, restoration work on Hunnicutt’s lower reaches in 2013, enhancement of the Hunnicutt’s wetland in 2014, and Reach 1 of 7 stream restoration projects on North Hunnicutt Creek in 2019 have sparked more consistent research within the watershed in recent years.

Clemson Students on Hunnicutt Creek
Students and Research
Clemson University students survey vegetation plots while enrolled in a special studies class focusing on vegetative succession during stream restoration activities.
Researchers at Hunnicutt Creek
Researchers at Hunnicutt Creek
Researchers discuss deployment of real-time level instrumentation for the Hunnicutt wetland enhancement project.