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Helping Mother Nature drink it up in the wetlands
For years, the wetlands in the Dallas-Barnhartvale Nature Park were dammed, diverted, piped away and sucked up by invading weeds.
But, by the end of a single day’s excavation, some of the animals that will make the shallow pools of water their home or frequent hangout were already finding their way back.
“We’ve already seen birds,” said Heather Toles of the Barnhartvale Horse and Hiker Trail Preservation Society.
“There was a group of them in the pond drinking water and bathing when we came in this morning.”
The society, along with community volunteers and Kentucky wetlands expert Tom Biebighauser, spent three days last week restoring the park’s wetlands.
It’s the first phase of a multi-year plan to build a site that mixes education with conservation and, the group hopes, attracts more people to a park that hasn’t gotten the buzz of Kenna Cartwright or Peterson Creek.
To start, the group excavated four shallow pools to collect groundwater and ripped out invasive plants such as box elders, which suck up large portions of water in the area without providing much in the way of animal habitat.
Pools were shaped and volunteers added logs and planted seeds and vegetation native to the area to round out the effect.
There was also some removal work to do.
“I understand people used to draw water from here for their homes,” Biebighauser said.
“We found drainage pipes and we found ditches and we found dams.”
Because the park is relatively steep, Biebighauser said he opted for multiple pools rather than one large wetland. Each pool will be relatively shallow, he said, with water no more than knee-deep.
“Most wildlife species benefit from shallow water,” he said.
“That’s where plants grow, in shallow water, and that’s where we find amphibians like the frogs and the toads. “
Besides frogs, the site should attract salamanders, turtles, ducks and other birds, as well as dragonflies and bats.
Toles said she’s already spotted a few voles lurking by the newly dug pools.
“That’ll be a bonus here,” said Biebighauser.
“Right now this is a beautiful park, it’s a great place to hike and it will even be better with these wetlands because people will get to see so many different wildlife species.”
Next year, the society plans to add more pools.
After that will come a boardwalk, observation platform and some interpretive signs.
Milton Stanley, a society member who serves on the society’s wetlands-restoration committee with Toles, hopes the wetlands will become a gathering space for people who want a different experience than what’s on offer in many of the city’s other parks.
“We have parks like Riverside that are — you wouldn’t call it a natural area. It’s sculpted and it’s beautiful and we need areas like that for cultural events, Remembrance Day events, that kind of thing,” he said.
“We need those spaces in the city. But, I think people also need a more natural wildlands park where they can come and observe nature. It’s just good for the soul.”
Toles said the society also hopes to see the site used by local schoolchildren and expects it to become a popular stopping point for horseback riders who use adjacent Crown lands.
“It’s just an excellent location for Mother Nature to put water,” she said.