N ine months ago, I wrote a column about a group of York countians -- 30 influential men and women working under the name of Moving Plans Into Action -- that was trying to transform the Codorus Creek into more than a waterway running through the middle of York City.
I recall pointing out that effort was nothing new to those of us who have lived all or most of our lives here in York County.
For more than a century, someone, some group of citizens, some politician, some mover and shaker would periodically pick up the ball and try to advance it in favor of turning the creek into an asset in York City.
Never happened. Truth is, for more than 100 years, the Codorus Creek has been more of an eyesore in York City (and York County) than a source of pride.
And whom have we had to thank for that turn of events? Well, all we need do is look in the mirror -- looking back at us will be six generations of York County residents.
Not all of us are to blame, I guess. But many of us are. We called it progress and were willing to turn a blind eye when our human waste and industrial garbage were flushed into the Codorus.
That was the way society did things back then. And many of us decided it was in our best interests to pretend not to notice, even when the air was filled with the stench of it and the water turned the color of a tarnished copper penny.
Me? I was never so concerned about converting the Inky Stinky -- that's what we called it when I was a kid back in the 1950s -- into a tourist attraction as I was in just improving it enough that water critters would reproduce and live in it and kids could swim in it without getting sick to their stomachs.
And here we are more than 50 years later, and those are still my childlike goals.
Just two weeks after I wrote that column last year, the state Department of Environmental Protection was called to York to investigate the reason behind 1,000 dead fish seen floating in the Codorus Creek past a city restaurant on a Friday night.
Chemical leak from an industrial source? Illegal manure dump from a farmer? Don't know. And true enough, those kinds of things happen a lot less frequently these days than in years past. Still, 1,000 fish were dead.
Hey, my wants and needs are relatively simple. Don't give me the moon, the stars and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow -- just give me water that is clean enough to drink and clear enough I can see fish swimming around in it.
Then last week, a colleague of mine happened to be doing some research and found a column I wrote 10 years ago, about the Inky Stinky of my youth.
Here are her exact words: "... I was doing some research, and I found this column you wrote about the Codorus. It made me wonder if your opinion has changed since 2003."
Nothing like being challenged by your own words -- 10 years later.
It happens more often than you might think. People actually clip these columns and then raise them from the dead a decade later to rub my nose in something I wrote.
That was not the case this time, but it did raise an interesting question. Has my opinion on the Inky Stinky changed in the last 10 years?
And I must say it has.
But first let me remind you that I am someone who grew up around the Codorus Creek. It ran a half-mile from my boyhood home. The west branch of the Codorus cut through the middle of my grandparents' dairy farm. I fished in it (but never ate the fish). I swam in it, and gulped down my share of the nasty brown water. I caught crawfish in it. I cooled myself off on hot summer days by splashing around in it.
And on certain days in the summer, I could smell it from every corner of York County.
To be honest, what this community did to the Codorus Creek over more than 150 years is shameful.
There was lots of money spent and there were plenty of efforts made over the years to get the creek cleaned up. Mostly for naught.
Then about 20 years ago, we got serious. I say "we," but mostly it was the efforts of a handful of people who honestly cared about cleaning up the mess that was the Codorus. And it started with efforts to force the various industries that sat next to the Codorus to clean up their acts.
It was time-consuming, but they didn't quit. They started cleaning up the creek a foot at a time with some heavy-duty spring cleaning. Volunteers. Hundreds of them. Cleaning out the junk, improving the ecological health of the creek, making it better for aquatic life.
And they've continued to do that every year.
Michael Helfrich, president of the Codorus Creek Improvement Partnership from 2002 to 2005, believes the cleanup efforts are paying off.
"The Codorus has made a tremendous return toward health," he said last week. "The biggest improvement has been P.H. Glatfelter's 60 percent reduction in water pollution. The color and smell are much better, but not yet perfect."
The Codorus Creek Improvement Partnership was able to reduce pollution from raw sewage and cancer-causing chemicals coming from old industrial sites, Helfrich said.
"I now see people fishing, playing with their dogs and a few even swimming in the creek, right in the city. I have bought a house with creek access and couldn't be happier to be able to walk out of my door, see the eagles fly over and the egrets fishing, go fishing myself and even have an occasional picnic right along the banks of the Codorus."
To be honest, I still wouldn't drink water from the Codorus. Old habits die hard, I guess. But it probably wouldn't kill me if I did.
I feel better, however, knowing Helfrich wouldn't drink water from the Codorus, either. Yes, he admitted it.
OK, the creek is clearer than it's been for 150 years, certainly for the 64 years of my lifetime. There are crawfish, fish and aquatic life galore living in it. And you can stand alongside the creek these days and actually see them in the water.
The Codorus Creek is still not Shangri-La, but it's closer to it than at any time in my lifetime.
Believe me, that's saying a lot.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhick firstname.lastname@example.org.