BY FRANK RUGGIERO
Progress is flowing on a wetland project off the Boone Greenway trail.
Since December, walkers, joggers and general passersby may have noticed a heaping mound of soil past the swim complex on Hunting Hills Lane.
That soil formerly occupied space that will soon be occupied by a wetland ecosystem, fueled by the town of Boone’s storm-water runoff.
Seen as a means of storm water mitigation, the one-acre wetland is being built in a joint effort between the Watauga County office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and the town of Boone through funding from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
According to extension agent Wendy Patoprsty, the wetland, which is located in a flood plain, will treat storm water from 30 acres of impervious parking lots, roads and buildings, removing sediments, nutrients, heavy metals, chemicals and bacteria by natural means and preventing them from entering the nearby New River.
“Every time it rains, our rivers and streams are exposed to pollutants, such as oil and gas from roads, trash and debris, pet waste, sediment from erosion, and excess nutrients and chemicals,” Patoprsty said.
From left, NCSU biological and agricultural engineering extension associate Justin Church, Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson (with first dog Midge) and Watauga County extension agent Wendy Patoprsty stand by the wetlands under construction near the town’s greenway trail off Hunting Hills Lane. Photo by Frank Ruggiero
“Storm-water runoff also produces thermal pollution, degrading river habitat for trout in the mountains.”
Due to the topography of the area, the wetland is being built by less conventional means. Justin Church, extension associate with N.C. State University Biological and Agricultural Engineering, designed the area for water from the drainage area to enter a tank to then be pumped into the wetland.
Because of an active sewer line below the site, Church and company were limited by how deep the land could be cut to facilitate a gravitational pull on storm water.
A “micro-topography” was designed to allow gravitational pull in different areas of the wetland, to accommodate a diversity of plants.
“A lot of (plants) have very strict conditions, as far as how they can survive,” Church said. “That’s why we’re working to create a diverse set of contours.”
The result is an area of deep pools, shallow water and temporary inundation areas to create a diverse ecosystem for wetland plants and animals, Patoprsty said.
She estimates more than 50 different plant species will be planted and seeded in the wetland, including swamp butterfly weed, marsh hibiscus and pickerelweed.
“Seeds can even be dispersed downstream,” she added.
Patoprsty acknowledged a typical public concern surrounding wetlands: mosquitoes, which propagate in standing water, rich in nutrients and bacteria for egg-laying.
While mosquitoes do breed in wetlands, Patoprsty said functioning wetlands produce enough natural predators, such as dragonflies, to actually reduce mosquito population.
“It’ll be a thriving, native system,” she said, adding that the wetland will also prevent flooding in areas that aren’t normally wet, which will also thwart mosquito propagation.
According to Jim Byrne, assistant to the Boone town manager, the project rings in at $178,000, $158,000 of which is funded by the N.C. Clean Water grant, with the remaining $20,000 being matched by the town.
Educational signage will also be placed nearby, and the town will furnish benches and trails surrounding the wetland.
Patoprsty expects construction to finish by the end of April, when she’ll invite volunteers to join in the planting and “come out and get muddy.”
Plants should start blooming that summer, when Patoprsty expects hundreds of colorful flowers to dominate the landscape.
“In the next few years, this is going to be an amazing stretch of the greenway,” she said.