04 February 2012

Wetland Restoration Underway at Heron Haven

Work is continuing on a wetland restoration project at Heron Haven. As February 2nd was World Wetland Day, it was a perfect day to visit a place in Omaha where a wetland conservation project is underway.

The wetland at Heron Haven is currently mostly dry, with portions dug up. The weather has been too warm to allow removal of sediment and other earth work. A new oxbow feature is nearly completed.

Canada Geese that were going about their usual breeding season activities will have to temporarily deal with long-term improvement efforts.

Funding for the project was provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through their Section 206 Program, which has a purpose of restoring ecosystems, according to Jeff Greenwald, the Heron Haven project manager for the federal agency. The total $1.1 million expenditure includes $600,000 for implementation and construction, and the remainder for planning and design.

Project objectives, according to Greenwald, include:

  • Removal of unwanted invasive plant species;
  • Eradicating a monoculture of cattails and reed canary grass;
  • Increasing the depth of the wetland waters;
  • Improving the diversity of aquatic plants; and
  • Improving aesthetics associated with the wetland habitat.

The Papio-Missouri NRD, the owner of the property, approached the Corps about doing the project, Greenwald said.

"We had an opportunity to restore a historic wetland site," said Jim Becic, manager of the PMNRD. He also noted how accessible the site is to the public. The NRD owns the Heron Haven property.

The wetland is a former oxbow of Papillion Creek, and is now an important urban wetland overseen by the Friends of Heron Haven, with Ione Werthman the group's leader and visionary.

Since its inception, Heron Haven has been a significant natural place for the Omaha community. In addition to its natural features - saved from apartment construction - which provide habitat for more than 140 known species of birds, there are other numerous values. It is an environmental learning facility, attractive to many, including school kids.

There are many "friends" of Heron Haven who regularly visit their special place. This includes the Heron Haven Camera Club with its own webpage of photographs.

Werthman is especially proud of the many Boy Scout projects which have been done.

During our visit on World Wetland Day, she was excited about receiving a $10,000 grant from the Becker Family Foundation. Their were no stipulations given on how the money would get used.

One obvious use was placing a windmill to provide a structure to get water into the dragon-fly pond near the nature center. She is looking for a 10-20' tower with all of its parts, and that could be restored. It would provide an iconic feature for the area.

If you have a windmill to donate, contact Heron Haven.

There will soon be some new educational features. Funds from the Marion Payton Memorial are being used to prepare mounts of a mink, woodchuck and raccoon, found as carcasses. An accipiter hawk is also being prepared. Three bat houses were installed last November as a Boy Scout project, and in the coming months they can provide a safe haven for these bugeaters.

A few acres of private property at the southeast corner of the area were purchased by the NRD in spring 2011, protecting an additional extent of the marsh environs. It is currently being "cleaned up."

The wetland restoration project is expected to be finished during early spring. Plant seeding is expected to occur in April once the growing season starts, Greenwald said. A formal ground-breaking for the project was held in November, 2011, as attended by project partners and many other interested people.

Once the project work is completed, ample waterflows from city of Omaha property uphill, will suitably replenish the wetlands. There are six known springs in this exquisite woodland hollow to the east of the north side of the Heron Haven property.

The groundwater never freezes, which is an obvious reason for the sighting of a diminutive Winter Wren while walking about the woods on Thursday.

Heron Haven is a unique natural treasure in urban Omaha, and a special place to visit even if it is not World Wetland Day. Hiking trails are currently closed due to construction activities, but the social whirl continues at the nature center. Once the project is done, get out there, hike about and appreciate the photography blind. Perhaps you might become a volunteer to continue the vision for Heron Haven?

Portion of project plan showing features for the renovated wetland.
Engineering design from Corps of Engineers planning document.