This week, I met up with producers Ethan Freese and Grant Reiner from Platte Basin Timelapse. They were gathering footage for a video project on Nebraska wetlands and we spent a couple hours wandering through and talking about The Nature Conservancy’s Derr Sandpit Wetland restoration project. My role was to walk around with my camera while wearing a microphone. I took some pictures, talked about the restoration project, and answered questions about wetlands and ecology in general. In other words, it was a very pleasant morning.
This is a wetland restoration project close to my heart. The restoration process took more than 10 years to complete, mostly because we had to piece the funding together bit by bit. Financial support came from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and even a memorial fund for my mom. That money helped us convert an old sand and gravel mining site to a beautiful mix of stream and wetland habitat.
We started with a long sandpit lake that had a stream entering at one end and flowing out the other. It was surrounded by trees and big piles of sand, and while it was a good place to catch catfish, the habitat value for most other wildlife was pretty limited. We took out the trees and pushed the sand piles into the water. When we were finally done, the stream flowed through the entire site once more, with multiple channels to choose from, depending on the whims of floods and beavers. There are also some isolated wetland pockets, designed to give tadpoles a place to grow up without having to dodge hungry fish.
Today, while the site faces a continual inflow of invasive plants from upstream, it also provides a habitat for a wide variety of animals, including freshwater mussels, beavers, lots of water birds, dragonflies, and much more. I’m told it’s a hot spot for river otters as well, though I’m just taking others’ word for that. The plant community is no slouch either, featuring lots of grasses, sedges, and rushes, but also a nice seasoning of forbs like cardinal flower, blue lobelia, beggar-ticks, winged lythrum (Lythrum alatum) and many others. It’s a really special place, and not just because it hasn’t gone dry like most of its neighboring wetlands have during recent droughts.
It was really nice to spend a morning celebrating this particular wetland and its restoration process, along with other wetlands around the state. We talked briefly about the utilitarian values of wetlands (water filtration, space for floodwaters to spread out and slow down, etc.) but I tried to focus most on the fascinating communities of organisms that live in wetlands. I understand how people can view wetlands as stinky mosquito-ridden swamps, but I’d love a chance to tour a wetland with those same people and introduce them to some of the more interesting plants and animals living there. For now, photos will have to do. Here are some more photos from the morning.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
If you’d like to see and read more about this wetland, here are a few links to older posts on the same site.
Lastly, here’s a feature on the site by Platte Basin Timelapse