Big Spring Run stream and floodplain restoration efforts in Lancaster County were highlighted in the Winter issue of Franklin & Marshall’s Winter Magazine.
The efforts involve using a new paradigm for ecosystem restoration pioneered with the help of Dorothy Merritts and Robert Walter from Franklin & Marshall’s Hackman Physical Science Laboratories.
Under the watchful eye of Merritts, Walter and a collaborative team of environmental engineers, geologists, botanists, landowners and F&M students, Big Spring Run is transforming into a new ecosystem, one that’s helping to revive the Chesapeake Bay Watershed’s ecology and challenging long-held, but ineffective, notions about stream restoration in Pennsylvania.
How did they do it? For starters: removing 20,000 tons of legacy sediment—“mud,” confirms Merritts—from the restoration site.
At first, removing truckloads of dirt sounds like a drastic solution for fixing a stream valley struggling with erosion and loss of plant life.
“It does seem radical,” Merritts, F&M’s Harry W. & Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Geosciences, admits of the Big Spring Run restoration plan. “On the other hand, it seems radical to us to go into those same valley bottoms and line the eroding stream banks with immense boulders.”
Jeffrey Hartranft, a botanist by trade, works for the Pennsylvania DEP and is part of the Big Spring Run project team. In the course of partnering with Merritts and Walter, he was excited to discover that lying beneath the legacy sediment of Big Spring Run was a possible key to the environment that had thrived there in the past. “I was looking at this hydric soil saying, ‘Wow, this is a paleo-environment that gives us a clue as to what was here beforehand,’” says Hartranft, who studied the evidence of seeds and other plant life unearthed once the sediment was removed.
Figuring out that the site should be restored as a wetland at all is an accomplishment in and of itself. “Conventional wisdom had always held that the landscapes adjacent to streams were forested,” explains Hartranft. “We found evidence contrary to that.”
The team discovered, instead, a complex ecosystem involving many different stream channels and wetland sedge meadows buried beneath hundreds of years worth of muck.
Click Here to read the full article.
Franklin & Marshall has put together a website detailing the approach and the results of floodplain restoration in the Big Spring Run Watershed.A Lancaster County-based consulting firm Landstudies, Inc. has worked with Franklin & Marshall and other partners on floodplain restoration and legacy sediment projects, like Big Spring Run. Click Here for more information on floodplain restoration.