Sometimes 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.
Today, 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.
What 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.
I 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.