“What’s the deal with the string?”
Those who drive by the end of Morris Road in Fort Washington in Montgomery County have probably asked that question time and time again. The answer is fairly simple.
In 2013, the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) created a new wetland on the site. The goal was to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and sediment washing into Sandy Run and Wissahickon Creek, and to reduce flooding at that site during extreme storm events.
With major funding from the Environmental Stewardship Fund and help from the Environmental Protection Agency and PECO/Exelon, WVWA turned a soggy, unusable baseball field into a small wonder, creating a wetland setting to support a wide range of insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
The miracle begins with insects. Many people mistakenly believe that wetlands are huge breeding places for mosquitoes. However, this is only true if the site is constantly injected with chemicals in an attempt to control the insects. If the correct species of plants are planted, the wetland will attract predator insects and animals that eat the mosquito larvae as they lie in the water. The few that hatch will be picked off by the many species of birds that thrive in such a setting.
Frogs also love these places. The plants give them places to hide, reproduce, and hatch their eggs. The small pools, called vernal pools because they often are only wet during the spring months, provide a nursery for tadpoles to grow in where they are safe from the fish that would eat them if they were in a stream. The second summer after WVWA installed the wetland, the vernal pools were swarming with tadpoles. What do they love to eat? Mosquito larva, of course, but they eat many other insects as well when they grow up and become frogs.
Plants, frogs, and insects bring the birds. Kingfishers, redwing blackbirds, mallards and great blue herons love these places for the safe refuge and food they provide. Unfortunately, so do Canada geese, which have become so overpopulated that they are now destroying the wetland plants that are necessary for food and habitat for all the other wetland animals. The geese also pollute the Sandy Run with their droppings.
Which brings us to the string. WVWA spent many hours stringing a strange-looking net of white twine over the whole project to keep the geese out. Geese hate taking off and landing through that web, and most of them just go somewhere else. Every so often a few intrepid geese manage to get in, and others soon follow. So, when drivers see a man in the pond waving his arms and chasing the geese out, they should know that it is one of WVWA’s staffers enforcing the goose ban. In a few years, when the wetland plants have matured in their tall, bushy form, the geese won’t want to enter anymore. The string will be removed, and then people will see a truly natural-looking restored wetland.
What was once an unusable field, nearly empty of life, will be a green gem, noisy with life, birds swooping through it as they search for their next snack. The wetland will catch and hold storm runoff, and in extreme events, floodwaters. This will improve water quality in nearby Sandy Run and lower the level of flooding in the Wissahickon, which Sandy Run empties into a short distance from the wetland.