volunteers work to renovate wetland after years of neglect

Seth Woehrle

Bulldozers, canoes and the brute strength of 35 volunteers converged on a little-known part of the St. Paul campus Thursday to reverse a century of neglect.
Faculty, staff and community volunteers spent the day at the Sarita Wetland carrying garbage out and wood chips for trails in. The project was part of the campus-wide Beautiful U Days.
The three-and-one-half acre wetland is all that remains of a lake drained in the early 1900s. Located on the southeastern corner of campus, it has become choked with tires and garbage. Storm water from the St. Paul campus flows unchecked into the wetland, reducing the water quality.
In 1997, the Fisheries and Wildlife Club started the first attempt by the University to rehabilitate the area but the Beautiful U Day cleanup marked the start of the full-scale marsh restoration.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Suzanne Savanick, a Ph.D. student in conservation and biology. “There’s a lot of exotic vegetation in here and the water quality is pretty degraded.”
Savanick is the coordinator of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Committee, an organization that improves the campus environment. The wetland restoration is the committee’s first project.
Ultimately, the area will have a stream, a sediment holding pond, an access trail and native vegetation to replace exotic plants like the purple loosestrife that has taken root in the marsh.
The wetland is also used as a classroom where students can do field study without the inconvenience of travel. A water quality class is already working on a way to manage incoming storm water and a wildlife class is studying the habitat around the area.
“I’ve been teaching with it for quite a few years,” said Jim Perry, a water quality professor in the fisheries and wildlife department. “The wetland offers a really unique opportunity to give students a field experience during their education.”
Besides providing learning opportunities, the wetland serves an important role in urban water systems.
“They work like sponges to clean up water before it gets to lakes or rivers,” Savanick said.
Perry said he hopes the lessons people learn at the wetland will go with them when they leave. “All of us end up with a better understanding of what our urban water system is like.”

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]