Nature Notes: Wetlands – What are they good for?

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

By Sydney Weisinger

Teacher/Naturalist

Did you know that the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center is restoring two wetlands near the tower? Did you know that these areas, that are currently prairies, were historically wetlands?

You may have seen some of the big machinery near the tower last summer-fall. You may have also seen the rocks that act as an erosion control structure. Here at the Nature Center we are restoring these lands for three main reasons: to give homes to a wider variety of wildlife, water quality and plant diversity.

We have a variety of different types of wetlands on the Nature Center property including wet meadows, marshes, and seasonally flooded wetlands. The seasonally flooded wetland is the easiest to spot, this is the area between the covered bridge and the stepping stone bridge. Whenever we get a lot of rain or Dobbins Creek floods, that section of low land floods and then holds onto the water in small depressions. This area of the forest generally has mineral soils that are well drained most of the season.

The forest is dominated by tree species that can handle wet soil like silver maples, cottonwoods, and American elms. This seasonally flooded wetland is great for the watershed when it floods because it helps slow down the rushing water and slows down soil erosion. Our favorite part about this area is that invasive plant species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle do not like wet areas, so we have very little to no invasive plant growth.

The other two areas of wetlands on our property are the ones we are restoring. These are classified as marshes and wet meadows. These areas were historically wet areas and most likely wetlands. Over time Dobbins Creek has moved around and development happened in the surrounding areas.

What we have done is directed water flow to the shallow pits in our prairies to allow more water to be held in these pits to restore wetland characteristics to these areas. We have also installed rocks that act as an erosion control structure for the wetland that is south of the tower. This helps slow down the water which in turn slows down the erosion that is happening on the creek.

These rocks also help hold more water in the wetland which will allow for new wetland specific plants to grow. A reason that is close to our hearts here at the Nature Center is that we love wetlands. They do a fantastic job of removing excess nutrients from water before it enters the creek. The excess nutrients are great for wetland plants and help keep the creek aquatic plants from growing out of control.

Wetlands are a great resource for migrating birds. They provide food, cover, and breeding grounds. We have already seen sandhill cranes on our restored wetland. Wetlands also provide critical habitat for animals like the blue-spotted salamander or the endangered Blanding’s turtle, which was spotted near the tower last year! Of course, with any standing bodies of water there may be more mosquitoes if you’re out on a walk, but just remember they are a great food source for bats. Just remember your bug spray the next time you hike out to the tower!

Nature Center in May

Saturday: Sola Fide Observatory Open House,  8-10 p.m.

May 10: Evening Bird Hike with Austin Audubon. Free and open to the public, 6:30 p.m.

May 11: Live Bird Program, 4 p.m.

May 12: Morning Bird Hike with Austin Audubon, 6:30 a.m.

May 17: Evening Bird Hike with Austin Audubon, 6:30 p.m.

May 19: Morning Bird Hike with Austin Audubon, 6 a.m.

May 21: Sola Fide Observatory Open House, 9-11 a.m.

May 28: Canoe and kayak rental begins for the season, 9 a.m.