20 November 2013

Improving Northwest Pond at Levi Carter Park

The Northwest Pond Natural Habitat Area at Levi Carter Park is cleaner now than it has been for a long time, and it has been seeded to improve the flora because of activities on Wednesday morning, November 20th.

As the sun was rising behind clouds in the east, the day started with a personal, quick pickup of trash, and then a repeat effort. There were two unwanted concrete blocks that were a heavy burden to carry from the edge of the woods to a place along Carter Boulevard where they could be taken away.

There was then an opportunity to converse with a local resident — he stopped his truck on the street to talk — about the ponds, stormwater runoff, street trash, and most importantly experiences with city of Omaha staff. We agreed that a natural setting was something to appreciate. He was not however satisfied that neighborhood has to deal with the trash (and he mentioned several disgusting things) and water from the "upland" to the west. He certainly wanted the ponds to be kept clean and that Levi Carter Park be managed in a manner that reflects local interests. He was more than disappointed in city officials that made claims that something was going to be done, and then nothing happened. There were "promises made" and they have not been completed. His comments were an acute perspective on how some city officials, with Brook Bench, the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property Department specifically mentioned as being a particularly problematic official. This residents words may have been different, so his perspectives in conveyed in a civil manner.

We did not agree on everything, but it was obvious that city officials be forthright and honest in what they say and how they present public property changes and plans to the public, and especially to residents in the neighborhood.

Site Improvement

Staff of the Stormwater Section, of Omaha Public Works then arrived. The three men got to work, using rakes to work the soil to improve and prepare its condition for seeding, and also removing errant twigs on the ground.

The seeds they spread were a native prairie-grass mix which included big bluestem, little bluestem, side-oats grama, indian grass, switch grass, said Andy Szatko. These are warm-season species that flourish later in the growing season. Cool-season species included were Virginia and Canada wildrye, and western wheat-grass. The mix included some oat seed with an intention for it to provide a cover crop.

Some forbs were included in the mix, according to Andy Szatko. He indicated jopye weed, partridge pea, spotted menarda, prairie blazing star, black-eyed susan and echinachia were among the seeds spread. They had been individually collected from other stormwater project sites in Omaha, so there was no cost for their purchase.

With snow pending, the conditions are great for the seeds to get established and sprout in the 2014 growing season.

Through a group effort, a bunch of trash was taken away, including numerous plastic bottles along the railroad tracks and newspaper pages, a nearly oblivious pad of some sort among the grass which was personally torn away and taken to the curb for disposal, a large circular piece of plywood, a mess of carpet, a pile of tiles, a tire from the water, and no longer necessary markers for the nearly completed culvert work.

Also at the scene and actively involved on a great day for this bit of a natural area, were city workers Ben Beller, Jim Kee and Christine Antoniak.

Andy Szatko removing a bunch of tile trash.

Ben Beller planting native prairiegrass mix.

Jim Kee checking the recent culvert work, which was not yet entirely finished.

Carpet trash pulled from the woods by Christine Antoniak, along with other trash we removed.

We accomplished a lot.

There were even a few unwanted cedar trees pulled from the ground to ensure this invasive species would not flourish and create a subsequent, unwanted condition among the flora.

The pond area is jointly managed by the Public Works Department primarily, along with the Parks and Recreation Department. The goal is to have a naturalistic setting at the site, Szatko said. Other benefits include improving visual appeal, establishing a buffer at the pond in association with the adjacent streets, enhancing habitat value, and reducing the extent of maintenance, such as mowing.

Public Works is responsible for the maintaining the pond, and ensuring that trash does not accumulate.

On Monday, Public Works personnel had excavated and worked dirt to improve flow conditions through the culvert beneath the U.P. railroad tracks. That work was done with consideration given to the site being a natural habitat area.

The stormwater pond was initially established in the mid-1990s, Szatko said.

Seeds of the native prairiegrass mix.