Students help plant new outdoor education site

Posted: Wednesday, November 08, 2000

Carefully cradling the tiny Elderberry bush, a Floyd Dryden Middle School seventh grader walks over to the edge of the pond and plants one of the hundreds of native plants at her new outdoor education site. "That's my plant! I'm going to watch it grow!" she gushed. Like many of her classmates, the student achieved a sense of ownership through an afternoon of work at the Floyd Dryden Pond.

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, about 60 students from science classes from Floyd Dryden Middle School planted wetland vegetation at their new outdoor education site. Ten adult voluteers assisted with the effort.

Restoration of the Floyd Dryden Middle School pond has been a collaborative community effort since 1999, when it was slated for filling. Because it rested at the bottom of a popular sledding hill, the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) needed a solution to reduce the risk of drowning. CBJ managers planned to fill the pond and turn it into a grassy field. As an alternative, the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership (MWP) suggested turning the pond into a shallow wetland to be used as an educational site.

Mendenhall Watershed Partnership members noted the half-acre pond provides water retention and natural treatment for drainage from a CBJ-owned recreational ball field nearby. The pond also drains into Duck Creek, which is designated an "impaired water body" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). By offering to build and pay for the education site with Partnership resources, the group reached an agreement with CBJ staff.

Christopher Mertl, a local landscape architect, volunteered to create the design for the new interpretive pond. "The Floyd Dryden pond has sat quietly in the schoolyard waiting to be polished for years. The design took an old stagnant sediment pond and converted into an exciting and vibrant wetland ecosystem that the school will now be able to use for hands-on education. The pond will be planted with native wetland species, while a new path will circle the pond and lead to dipping platforms - which will give the children the opportunity to study the pond's water qualities, plants and creatures which will soon inhabit the pond."

Filled to a shallow depth and planted with submerged aquatic plants, the pond now looks like wetland restoration sites across the Mendenhall Valley. Last summer, vegetated mats donated from Don Howell at the Squire's Rest construction site were installed around the perimeter of the pond.

Don Abel Building Supply donated lumber for the next phase. Mendenhall Watershed Partnership volunteers built small boardwalk/dipping platforms to allow safe student access to the water. "This joint venture on the pond was a natural thing for me as a contractor - putting together the frames for the unit was the best way for me to contribute. The Juneau Homebuilders Association is looking forward to other projects like this in the future," said Russ McDougal.

Last week students and teachers added riparian plants to the vegetated mats. The plants will improve fish and wildlife habitat, water quality filtering and aesthetics. Students from Floyd Dryden Middle School will monitor the success of pond vegetation and fish and wildlife populations. When compared with baseline data collected in 1999, students' results will indicate whether long-term restoration of fish and wildlife habitat is taking place.

"Discovery Southeast will be working with teachers to maximize the use of this great resource," said Jono McKinney, the outdoor education group's Executive Director. This spring, Discovery Southeast will develop a three-lesson curriculum to help Floyd Dryden teachers use the outdoor education site most effectively.

Contributions to the Wetland Education Site include Dave Hanna at Source Limited, Russ McDougal of Mac's Construction, Christopher Mertl of Jensen Yorba Lott Architects, Don Abel Building Supply, Jackie Timothy at the Division of Governmental Coordination, Don Howell and the Floyd Dryden Middle School staff. John Hudson and Richard Carstensen performed the baseline research to find out what already existed in the pond. Funding for the project was provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Members of the community can visit the wetland site located between Floyd Dryden Middle School and the ball field.

Cheryl Van Dyke is the executive director of the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership. Formed in January 1998, the partnership is a nonprofit, community-based, citizens' organization that works to maintain and enhance the environmental quality and economic vitality of the Mendenhall watershed. The Mendenhall Watershed Partnership staff can be reached via email at: or by phone: 907-586-6853. Their Web site is:

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