Fri September 4, 2009
Minnesota man tries to restore Kentucky wetlands
By Ron Smith
Frankfort, KY – You may not realize it, but for years, most of Kentucky's natural wetlands have been disappearing and are now nearly gone. But as Ron Smith of WEKU (KPR) reports, an enthusiastic effort is underway to restore what was almost lost
Tom Biebighauser is wild about wetlands. He preaches his environmental gospel to anyone who'll listen, as he did this summer at a reforestation conference in Eastern Kentucky.
Tom: If you visit a wetland, you can't help but get excited about what you see! Oh c'mon it's somethin' to visit one of these areas you're gonna see wood ducks.
Wetlands are practically in Biebighauser's blood. He was born and raised in the wetland wonderland of Minnesota home to those legendary 10-thousand lakes. Contrast that with Kentucky, where according to Biebighauser 90 percent of the wetlands have been drained.
As a Wildlife Biologist for the U-S Forest Service in Morehead, Kentucky, Biebighauser works not only to preserve existing wetlands, but advocates passionately for the creation of new ones. At this point you may be wondering what a wetland is.
Basically a wetland is a low lying area, such as a marsh or bog or swamp, that's saturated with water. It's also a vibrant habitat where native plants and other wildlife abound.
You might think that includes clouds of mosquitoes not true says Biebighauser.
Tom: Mosquitos will check in but they won't check out.
Because says Biebighauser healthy wetlands include numerous predators.
Wetlands are places of beauty which provide numerous environmental benefits.
Tom: By cleaning runoff from parking lots, by providing habitat for endangered species, and by recharging our groundwater you know most of us get our water from wells, how is that water supplied?...it is often re-supplied through wetlands.
It's a nice sales pitch and apparently an effective one. Over the years, Biebighauser has established more than one-thousand wetlands in 12 states and Canada. But his primary focus these days is on Kentucky. He's involved in fashioning dozens of wetlands preservation and creation projects for schools and communities. In 2007, he took his message to the tiny south central Kentucky town of Mount Vernon...
Mayor: A lot of people said they're making a mosquito hole down there what's that about? And you can't wade in there it's muddy so you have to educate the people.
But first Mt. Vernon Mayor Clarice Kirby had to educate herself about wetlands. Kirby did such a good job that she convinced city council members to unanimously approve the reclamation of a natural wetland just outside of town.
In the strong midday sun, the petite blonde removes her dark wraparound sunglasses squints and nods toward a spot a few yards away. It's about as natural as natural gets a 50 by 60 foot teardrop-shaped pool of water ringed by big box boulders and towering cattails flowering plants and thick vegetation.
In the middle a downed willow tree is taking root, it's a perch for sunning turtles, salamanders, dragonflies and kingfishers looking for a meal. It's all surrounded by a ten foot wide swath of rough grass. Mayor Kirby says polluted water enters one side is filtered by uncut vegetation and flows out the other side clean enough to grind. Eventually, the water enters nearby Lake Linville, a water supplier to five Kentucky counties.
Besides a wetland, Linville Park also offers a children's playground baseball field covered shelter walking track even a beach volleyball court. Kirby says it's a welcome addition to her community of 16-hundred people which offers little in the way of entertainment.
Mayor: And this is part of something that I didn't grow up with but a lot of the things that I grew up with are gone we don't even have a theater we don't have a roller rink we don't have anything for the kids so ya know, they can come out here to the park and this can be part of education and they can have some recreation at the same time.
The Mount Vernon wetland was reclaimed in 2007 with the help of Tom Biebighauser.
Government reports show wetland acreage across North America continues to drop. Maybe that's why Biebighauser is so passionate about consulting, holding workshops telling Kentuckians about the need to restore wetlands. Borrowing from his Midwest roots, the environmental crusader with the can-do spirit describes what's possible in the Commonwealth. The way Tom Biebighauser sees it if it's good for Minnesota.