Bartlett Arboretum puts drought to good use

10/09/2013 2:53 PM

08/05/2014 8:26 PM

The drought is taking its toll on Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine.

Trees are beginning to lose their leaves, and faithful volunteers water around the clock.

“The yard looks pretty lush until you look way up in the sky” and see the brown leaves, said Robin Macy, the arboretum’s owner and steward.

But it isn’t all bad news at the arboretum.

Macy is using the drought as an opportunity to dredge Euphrates Creek, which often floods the arboretum when it rains. The creek has only been dredged twice in its 102-year history: once in 1910 by the original owner and again in the 1950s.

Dredging the creek will not only alleviate flooding but will also help the ecosystem and minimize blue-green algae.

The drought is “really the best time to clear out ponds, clear out creeks,” Macy said. “It’s kind of ugly, but part of the life cycle.”

Besides the drought, the dredging is possible for two other reasons: a grant originally received in 2008 and help from a local concrete construction company.

In 2008, the arboretum won a $25,000 Mark of Distinction grant from Markham Winery in California, beating projects in New York City, Phoenix and other, more populated areas, Macy said. The money was to be used to dredge the creek to address flooding and runoff issues, but it was delayed due to excessive precipitation in 2009 and 2010.

“You just have to wait for Mother Nature,” Macy said.

The creek was dry for most of 2011, but finances kept Macy from going ahead with the project. Then Beran Concrete and Excavating offered to help.

Ken Beran, the company’s owner, said his company is committed to completing the project “no matter what the cost.”

Macy said she has employed the company for projects at the arboretum before, and she was “overwhelmed with joy” when they began work Thursday.

“Their generosity is turning $25,000 into a lot more,” Macy said.

Macy plans to recycle the dirt from the creek and put it in a meadow behind the arboretum. She intends to plant tallgrass prairie, “so people can walk through the forest and into the prairie,” Macy said.

“Prairie is one of the ecosystems not represented here.”

Until the drought ends, however, Macy is preparing for a possible repeat next year. She is talking to a hydrologist about digging new wells and testing the water from old wells, too.

“Having the creek cleared out is good – we can use runoff to irrigate with,” she said.

Beran expects the project to be completed Friday. They’re ahead of schedule because of the drought.

“It will rain again,” Macy said. “And we’re gonna have a deeper creek and maybe a cistern and maybe a way to harness Mother Nature.”

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