Rebuilding Wetlands

Agencies, volunteers are turning an old gravel pit off Nancy Street into a stream to draw wildlife

Posted: Friday, July 07, 2006

What was once a desolate iron-laden pond has been transformed into a place officials hope will attract wildlife and humans.

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The Nancy Street Wetland Enhancement Project, a multi-agency stream restoration in the Mendenhall Valley, is almost complete after nearly a year's worth of work.

"The idea was to try and create as much habitat diversity as possible for birds and fish, as well as making it a place for people to enjoy," said Samia Savell, a watershed planner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The project was launched in 2005 with excavated fill from the new Mendenhall Valley high school site. The rocks and dirt were used to shape and fill in one of three gravel pits that turned into a murky pond and was nearly void of wildlife for half a century. Multiple local, state and federal agencies have come together to give the area a makeover.

"It looks completely different," said Michele Elfers, a city landscape architecture intern who wrote a master's degree thesis on the project. "It was a gravel pit that was a pond and now it's an emergent wetlands."

AmeriCorps volunteers working for Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, have been spending the past several weeks transplanting multiple wetland species from around town into the soil around the Nancy Street project.

"We have these large fingers of land, just like gravel and dirt, and we've been hitting all the wetlands around Juneau and harvesting a few native plants from each one," SAGA co-crew leader Trevor Wright said.

How to get there

Nancy Street wetlands

Nancy Street is the first right off of Mendenhall Loop Road before Cinema Drive on the way to the Mendenhall Glacier.

The eight-person SAGA crew has been transplanting salmonberry plants and rushes, as well as clippings of willow and cottonwood trees. Wright, 22, said the group has probably transplanted 6,000 to 7,000 plants for the project.

"Sedges are the main plants we are using," he said. "They are a vibrant plant with a high survival rate."

Twenty-four-year-old Jordan Doak, the other co-crew leader, said the site has been visually transformed in the past month.

"When we got here it was very desolate as far as vegetation goes and it had been overworked with some pretty heavy machinery," he said. "In a couple years we'll be able to see it as a full wetland."

Doak said the process of collecting the plants and replanting them has been very rewarding and has helped the crew come together as a team. This is the group's first project of the season.

"My favorite part is going out in rain or shine, and we go out and collect all these tubs full of tall grasses, like sedges," he said. "You get to spend a lot of time in the mud."

Elfers said the area should take a couple of full growing seasons to completely transform into its potential, but she said results can already be seen.

"It's already attracting a lot of wildlife and it's barely even grown in yet," she said.

Mallards, king fishers, blue herons and bald eagles have been spotted visiting the restored wetlands.

"The three goals we have for this project are wildlife habitat enhancement, water quality improvement, and public access and awareness," Elfers said.

The pond once had a murky orange color caused by oxidized iron that was picked up naturally as the groundwater filtered through the natural strata, Elfers said.

"By creating a wetland, the vegetation actually filters the water and restricts iron sediment from flowing downstream," she said.

Several more weeks of work are scheduled, including the construction of a trail by the local nonprofit organization Trail Mix. A local contractor is scheduled to begin constructing a water control system next week.

Savell said the project is a nice addition to Juneau and will be another place for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

"We really wanted this to be a place for the community, not just a wetland restoration project, but also an enjoyable space for the community," she said.

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