An Ounce of Mitigation

Benjamin Franklin famously suggested “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I’ll update that for the wetland business: A gram of avoidance is worth a kilo of mitigation. (Note the update to Metric units. You’re welcome!!)


DSC_0668Case in point: the Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail. This is one of those “rail-to-trail” projects using a former railroad bed, and it goes from Riceville all the way up into Minnesota, where it connects to another trail system. Although our trail runs on the old railroad line in many places, it must find other routes here and there. A section crossing the Wapsi (Wapsipinicon) River just south of McIntire in Mitchell County presented a special challenge: wetlands along the river, and a long distance to span across the valley.

Some thoughtful planning and hard work addressed both challenges. Let me quote the engineering firm:

WHKS performed a certified wetland delineation for a 3.1 mile long bike trail planned for construction along the bank of Wapsipinicon River. The delineation was required by the U.S. Corp. of Army Engineers (USACE) as part of the permitting process…

Using information gathered in the delineation, WHKS recommended several changes to the alignment and proposed bridge structures to avoid wetland impacts. A permit was issued without the need for further wetland mitigation.

That’s putting old Ben’s advice to good use. By identifying and mapping the edge of the wetlands (delineation), understanding the particulars of the design criteria (a recreation trail designed to allow users to enjoy the natural beauty), and good planning…they used an ounce of prevention. In fact, it is much better to avoid impacts to the wetlands, than to do expensive and difficult mitigation of those impacts after the fact. Wouldn’t it be nice to have this happen more often…?


And so I (and other visitors) can enjoy the wetlands in their original beauty. Even better, the¬†Conservation Corps built an amazing boardwalk so you can go right over the wetlands, enjoying an up-close and personal view. I really enjoyed the bird’s-eye view, although (perhaps unsurprisingly) I did crawl down and tromp around a bit, and was rewarded with a few treasures of Nature in Winter.


Tracks of a small mammal tell a story about their activity. Nice weather today, looks like my little friend has been out foraging? I wonder what’s around here. Movement out of the corner of my eye revealed a Vole (Microtus) scurrying near the boardwalk. Well, hello there!

And how about some winter plant observations? Poking out of the snow I observed various grass-like plants (sedges), tough to identify precisely. Then I saw the bright red standing remnant of a dock (Rumex), as tall as me. Impressive!


On to the woody plants. A couple young Ash trees (probably White ash, Fraxinus americana) on slightly higher spots. Nearby I observed a thicket of our native (Speckled) Alder. I learned it as Alnus rugosa although in the PLANTS database they call it Alnus incana, and who am I to argue? The Alder is unusual—it is a northern species, and a quintessential wetland plant. Probably found in Iowa in only a few locations in the far northern counties—this spot is one of the best examples I’d imagine.

So, let’s all stomp our muddy boots in salute to the folks who made this possible: engineers and planners, civic boosters, conservation interns, and outdoor enthusiasts. Your efforts are appreciated, and I hope to come back another time and stroll or hike your lovely trail. Cheers!!

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

One thought on “An Ounce of Mitigation”

  1. Paul, you are so right about wetland mitigation. And it is so good to read about project planners and engineers who made the right choices and did the right things. Thank you for sharing this cheerful story, and congratulations and more thanks to all those who share responsibility for the happy ending.

    Liked by 1 person

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