July 3, 2014. If you’ve been to the Valle Crucis Community Park this summer you may be wondering why the water level in the park’s pond has been falling. This intentional lowering of the pond’s water level marks the beginning of a two-year project to convert the man-made pond into a natural wetland habitat.
For over 20 years, the constructed pond received a constant flow of water from the Watauga River. Unfortunately, this was not healthy for the river. Cold water from the river flowed into the pond and heated up, and then that warm pond water flowed back into the Watauga River. The river supports trout and other species that need cold water to survive and, according to Wendy Patoprsty, Watauga County Extension Agent, thermal pollution is one of the main issues impacting Western North Carolina trout streams. With increased development, excess stormwater runoff, and decreased stream bank vegetation, stream temperatures are at their height by mid-summer and many areas are unable to support wildlife dependent on cold water.
In 2007, the river was cut off from the pond during a stream bank restoration project. This was a good step to protect aquatic life in the river, but negatively impacted the pond. Without the river water flowing into the pond, the water gets very stagnant and smelly, and aggressive invasive species have been choking out plant diversity. “For the past few years we’ve been actively removing invasive plants and replanting with native species,” says Bon-Scott Hartwig, Maintenance Director at Valle Crucis Community Park.
Caroline Gandy, the park’s Executive Director, has a vision of increasing habitat diversity and wildlife populations within the Valle Crucis Community Park, stating that “this pond conversion will serve a valuable ecological function for not only bird migration but also amphibians in the floodplain corridor.”
The next step in the project will be the installation of native wetland plants such as arrow arum, swamp hibiscus, cardinal flower, pickerel weed, duck potato, and native rushes and sedges to create a natural design and patterns of color and textures. The High Country Audubon has been very supportive of this project because many of the plant species that will be incorporated are excellent bird habitat.
Wetlands are incredibly important ecosystems that provide habitat for many species of birds, plants, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and insects while also keeping our water clean and helping to store floodwater. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the lower 48 states contained over 220 million acres of wetlands in the 1600s. In 2009, surveys found only 110.1 million acres of wetlands, the result of hundreds of years of filling wetlands to make room for farming and development.
For more information, or if you’re interested in helping with planting this summer, please contact Wendy Patoprsty at the Watauga County Cooperative Extension at 828-264-3061.