A partnership of individuals, businesses and government agencies has transformed a dredge pond at Floyd Dryden Middle School into a new science lab that will be available to students beginning this fall.
The Mendenhall Watershed Partnership - a nonprofit organization funded by grants, membership fees and donations - is nearing completion on a two-year effort to transform the pond into a model natural habitat.
Located between the football stadium and the school, the pond was created when material was dug up to make a sledding hill. The pond drains through an underground tributary into Duck Creek.
Members of the partnership donated time and materials to plant vegetation under water, lay down mats of pondside vegetation transplanted from other locations, and build two platforms that jut into the pond.
Where gravel and sand once formed the pond's banks, it's now a more diverse habitat, one already used by ducks and shorebirds, said John Hudson, chairman of the Restoration Committee of the partnership.
The partnership added soil to the pond so it would be shallower, allowing aquatic plants to take root and attract insects. Swallows already swoop over the pond to catch insects.
The pondside vegetation - including sedges, willow shrubs, fireweed, lodgepole pines, lady fern - will filter sediment that runs off nearby land during storms and catch it before it gets to the pond. As the water slows down when it passes through the plants, the silt falls out, Hudson said.
"And it's wonderful habitat structurally for insects and birds," he said. "I imagine small mammals will use this riparian (pondside) area. There's lots more cover - more places to live and hide."
Discovery Southeast, an educational organization in Juneau, is developing a curriculum for teachers that includes studying aquatic invertebrates, and monitoring water quality and the progress of native and transplanted vegetation, said Richard Carstensen.
"You could consider the whole project an experiment in what succeeds and why," he said.
The pond has a definite orange hue from aggregations of iron in the water, probably because the pond's original excavation struck marine sediments and iron leached out, said Bruce Bigelow, a board member of the partnership.
Michelle Felker was planting irises among the vegetation Saturday.
"Moving here from Texas, orange water was a completely new phenomena to me. So I'm curious if the plants we planted will work, because they're supposed to filter out sediments in the water."
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.