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Surprised by Beauty

Posted on September 1, 2016, by Roberta Hudlow SL

Webster University’s pond and fen park enhance nature on the urban campus.
Images courtesy of Roberta Hudlow

There is a soft spot of ecological and low-tech beauty behind Webster University’s multiple-rise parking garage on Garden Avenue. It is a low marshy area that planners at the university decided would make a good rain runoff spot for the rather large concrete and brick footprint of Webster’s mother campus. This bio-retention pond collects the runoff from about half of the building and parking areas. It holds the water and allows it to slowly seep into the ground and into the aquifer as the soil filters out garbage and other sediment.

The plan was to ease the burden of the sewers. However, university maintenance soon began to notice that even in the driest of times the pond did not go dry. The drainage pond had met up with the groundwater that reached up to the surface from the aquifer. This type of meeting is not strong enough to create a swamp or marsh but creates what is called a fen. The original marshy land was indication of the groundwater seepage.

Jeff DePew of Webster’s education and science departments has been developing the site. He and his students planted native plants and began managing the area. The plants improved the health of the pond and improved the filtration process. Two pumps keep the water aerated; they are maintained by two photo-voltaic panels on the hillside. Trees have been planted, and the grounds are well kept; it all makes a lovely park. There is an informational sign for visitors to understand the reason for the site and to see plans for the future.

More nature has returned, adding to the beauty. DePew and his students have identified 18 species of dragonflies, five species of frogs and countless birds. One can hear the familiar “twee” of the red-winged blackbirds and see the flash of red. There are ducks and the ever-present Canada geese. An endangered Missouri mink also has been sighted here.

When you are in St. Louis, go on a mini-eco tour. Visit the Webster pond and fen park. It is an ecotreasure that stormwater and landscaping experts have been visiting since its creation eight years ago.


Roberta Hudlow SL

Roberta Hudlow SL is a working artist, photographer and longtime advocate for justice and peace.
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