11/28/11
Michael Berg

Below is an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch involving the Missouri Sierra Club.

Restoration of Wetlands Offsets St. Louis County Road Work

BY HARRY JACKSON JR. • harry.jackson@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8234 |

Thursday, November 25, 2010

 St. Louis County has been quietly restoring about 550 acres of wetlands on the west side of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.

Miles of natural trails will snake through an area that's wetter than a prairie but not quite a swamp, said Dennis Hogan, environmental resource specialist with St. Louis County Parks. Pools throughout the project will be about 3 feet deep or less.

Plants that thrive in wetlands, such as lily pads and marsh grasses, will eventually dominate the area. Animals expected on the site include water birds, tall wading birds, migratory birds, deer, small mammals and the reptiles and amphibians common to the area.

"We have birds and plants returning already that we hadn't seen there for years," Hogan said. Even before the work, he said, it was a great area for nature lovers.

"It's a wonderful habitat for herons, egrets, eagles, rutting ducks, teal," Hogan said. "The little basin dried up four or five years ago. Now that we've had a couple of wet years, the water is back and holding constant throughout the growing season. I'm sure we're going to get beavers and muskrats."

Work on the project is expected to finish in April or May.

The project — formally known as the "Page-Olive Connector Compensatory Wetland Mitigation" — replaces land lost to the construction of the Page-Olive Connector, which runs south from River Valley Drive through Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, and the Page Avenue Extension, which runs through the park across the Missouri River to St. Charles County. The road work ate up a lot of natural wetlands. When planning started two decades ago, the Army Corps of Engineers required that land lost to the projects be replaced.

Jack Harris, a member of the Webster Groves Native Plant Society, said the wetlands site, with its variety of trees, birds and plants, is "a well-visited area for nature types." The county's administration of the area when it's complete doesn't appear to be at risk despite budget wrangling in the county, said Chris Ludwig, parks project manager for St. Louis County Parks. The trails through the wetland area will be mowed, but that is about all of the maintenance that will be needed to be done by the county, he said. There will be no amenities, such as restrooms, plumbing or playgrounds in the wetland area.

UNUSED LAND

St. Louis County already owned most of the land, which had been sitting unused and drying out.

Rain was the only source of water in the area. On the west side, a 500-year levee blocked water from the Missouri River from reaching the area. On the other side, silt and development had capped any flow from Creve Coeur Creek.

Over the last two years, St. Louis County used about $750,000 in federal, state and county money opening a pipeline from the creek and installing pipes between pools. The "plumbing" allows water to flow between the pools, Ludwig said, including Little Creve Coeur Lake, which is more a marsh than a body of water.

The key pipe from Creve Coeur Creek is at the crossings of Creve Coeur Mill Road, Waterworks Road and the Page-Olive Connector (Maryland Heights Expressway), the southeast corner of the wetlands.

The pipe goes beneath the roads and into a shallow pond. From there, water can flow between pools, Ludwig said. The flow won't be constant, and the wetlands can dry out, "but that's natural," Ludwig said.

The money also paid to flatten high points, buy land, plant compatible plants and remove other plants, Ludwig said.

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

The federal Clean Water Act defines wetlands as bogs, swamps and marshes — any land continuously saturated by water. In Missouri, they're primarily the result of river flood plains.

The Creve Coeur Park wetlands are bounded by Page Avenue Extension on the north, the Page-Olive Connector on the east, River Valley Drive on the west and Waterworks Road on the south.

They include the Memetonwish Wetland at the Page Avenue Extension and River Valley Drive, the MoDOT Wetland in the center and the Maryland Heights Expressway Wetland to the south. The area encloses Little Creve Coeur Lake, a wide, shallow, overgrown pool west of the Page-Olive Connector.

Local environmentalists like the wetlands but don't like why they came into being.

John Hickey, director of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the county's mitigation project is the best of a bad situation.

"You build mitigation wetlands because you've paved over natural wetlands," Hickey said. "While we're glad to see wetlands, they're destroying natural wetlands where they shouldn't be doing the development. ... We feel the main focus should be stopping irresponsible development in the flood plains."

The Sierra Club fought construction of the Page Avenue Extension and other development in the area.

Still, Hickey said, "it's not something we feel is worthless, by any means."

Sierra Club members have volunteered with the Audubon Society and other environmental groups to plant about 1,000 trees and other plants. The county credits volunteers with helping to remove about 20 tons of trash.

Nevertheless, 'sometimes you have to build that building and put up that bridge, and we just try to be there to get what we can for the environment," said Mitch Leechman, executive director of the St. Louis area chapter of the Audubon Society. "It's an example of getting something good out of something that may not be all that good."