Bang, Bang…you’re a wetland.

DSC_0619Sometimes a wetland is a wildlife wonderland; sometimes it’s a hard-working chemical transformer; sometimes a place of beauty and quiet contemplation.

Nahant Marsh in Scott County is a story of hard-won rehabilitation, and a warning of a toxic threat.

In the floodplain of the nearby Mississippi River, in the Quad Cities area (Davenport), Nahant Marsh is now a nature center. However, it was quite different in its past:  the property is a former  Superfund site. That means at one time, it was so contaminated that the EPA listed it for priority in clean-up. But unlike Iowa River Landing in Johnson County, this site wasn’t polluted by a factory or a mine; it was contaminated by sporting goods…specifically,  firearms ammunition (bullets, slugs, shot) made of lead. Nahant Marsh was a gun club. Countless rounds of lead ammo accumulated in the sediments (muck), eventually reaching a concentration so high it needed a difficult and costly excavation of the poisonous sediments to protect the water, soil, and organisms living there.

DSC_0608Today, you can learn of this toxic history from informative displays at the nature center. The college student intern was matter-of-fact about it, but clearly preferred to talk about what’s in bloom today, or his wildlife sightings. And of course, I saw wildlife too: the vista of the wetlands near the building is terrific for spotting herons, ducks, geese, and other wetland birds. Later I wandered the trails, viewed wildlife from a blind, and observed the water from a viewing porthole in the dock. The infrastructure brings us up close and personal with the world of the wetland. It’s a unique perspective, and a lot of fun to explore.

DSC_0613What could be more fun than that? How about friendly goats! I found these animals working hard, nibbling away at encroaching weeds and woody vegetation. Despite an electric fence, they came over to say hello, so I showed them a little love…how could I resist? Putting goats to work in parks (or, natural areas on private lands) is a growing trend…I’ve been hearing more and more about it. Seems like safe and effective weed management to me.

Having met the hard-working staff (2-legged and 4-legged), and read Nature center informative displays, I wandered around, relaxing and enjoying myself. I love the garden/play area for the youngsters. A woman and child were enjoying them while I visited, and they had borrowed a net to go work from the dock, too. I elected to commune with nature over food, so I observed waterfowl as I enjoyed my lunch at the picnic table.

DSC_0609I really enjoyed my visit! Despite a toxic legacy, the cleanup was completed, and the marsh has new life. Nahant is vibrant, and beautiful, and educational. We can call it a success story.

But…we haven’t really learned the lesson of Nahant Marsh; not yet. I wish I could say Nahant is an aberration, an isolated case of toxins at one site alone. Alas, we have a much, much bigger problem. So in my next post, I’ll write more about the toxicity that so threatened Nahant, and still poses a threat across Iowa and beyond. Please check back, next week.

Author: Paul Weihe

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

3 thoughts on “Bang, Bang…you’re a wetland.”

  1. Lead shot was the first Iowa conservation issue that I worked on, back in 1981. That issue taught some hard lessons. I look forward to reading the next installment of this blog entry.

    And goats, yes! My neighbor hired them to work in his woodland, very appealing.


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