25 September 2008

River Critters Enhance Plaza of Pedestrian Bridge at Omaha

River critters that depict endangered and threatened species of the Missouri River valley are an educational feature included at the newly dedicated pedestrian bridge at the Omaha riverfront.

The objects are at a plaza at the west end of the bridge, and the primary features of a "child play area."

"We wanted a destination plaza that families could enjoy, again and again," said Steve Scarpello, director of Omaha Parks and Recreation Department. "This will be a place for people to sit and enjoy the bridge."

The stone facsimile of the Pallid Sturgeon and Piping Plover were created by Andy Dufford, of Chevos Studios in Denver, at a cost of $190,000, which includes three two-foot-in-diameter boulders depicting eggs of the Least Tern.

[Stone Piping Plover at the Omaha riverfront.]

A stone version of a Piping Plover at the plaza of the pedestrian bridge at the Omaha riverfront.

[Stone Pallid Sturgeon at the Omaha riverfront.]

A stone version of a Pallid Sturgeon.

"The artist worked to get species to look as close as possible to the actual species," said Carol McBryant, the chief of interpretation for the Lewis and Clark trail, National Park Service. "We worked together on how to present the material, and how it might be more interactive than typically, to make it more tactile and allow people to get involved with the species."

There is also a large rock, in which two examples of the river channel - former and present - are etched. Water can be added to a reservoir at one end, and it will go through the channels to show the difference in flows, said Pat Slaven, a planner with the department. Water jets placed under the chin of the sturgeon are also part of the features children can play with. [View of the pedestrian bridge from the Omaha riverfront.]

Another artistic feature of the plaza is the art piece "Fiber Wave," created by Makoto Sei Watanabe, from Japan. This object is a group of carbon fiber rods about twelve feet tall that will wave with the winds. The only other similar work is in Chicago, Scarpello said.

Other educational material at the pedestrian bridge will be signage with information on the life cycles of the three threatened and endangered species, the Indian perspective of the Missouri valley, history and changes of the river, and mitigation efforts, said McBryant. This signage will be placed at the "bumpouts" along the bridge sometime in November.

Some of the information to be placed at either end of the bridge, was required by the Fish and Wildlife Service as mitigation efforts from issues involving listed species, which also included the Bald Eagle.

Plantings of native grasses - mainly switchgrass - and native flowers at the plaza on the west side of the bridge, will complement the adjacent garden that is well-established at the National Park Service building. This garden includes a variety of grasses and forbs designed to help the building achieve LEED certification, ponds to retain storm-water runoff, according to McBryant. There is also a tepee, representing the Lewis and Clark era, and used for educational purposes. Other signage tells about the journey of discovery along the historic river.

Although the bridge will officially open on September 29th, the river critter area will open later, once grass and turf irrigation is installed, Scarpello said.

Overall, the cost of the plaza has been $1.8 million, all which was provided by private donations. It is expected to be officially dedicated in the spring.

"We needed something special at the bridge," Scarpello said. Private contributors "provided something the people of the city can be proud of."

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