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Although many areas are not visible to motorists on the completed highways for which they mitigate, West Virginia's wetlands have been created and landscaped to duplicate or enhance the environment displaced by construction.
In addition to achieving the desired results of providing habitat for waterfowl including mallards, geese and herons, amphibians of all types and animals from racoons to deer, the wetlands have provided unexpected bonuses.
Wood duck boxes installed at one location, a cooperative effort between Ducks Unlimited and the State Divisions of Highways and Natural Resources, continue to attract the small waterfowl. Another wetland, which incorporated an old pond, now yields largemouth bass. The limestone of a rock fill sediment structure of another now appears to be providing a nursery for hundreds of Norway spruce seedlings. In addition, a smaller wetland, created through migrating plant species deposited by the sediment structure, provides additional filtration for some 40 areas of highway runoff and for acidic material from area coal formations. Still another wetland once prevented untold damages to the town where it is located by impounding millions of gallons of floodwaters from a nearby river.
Built to impound three levels of water - open water, emergent areas and upland islands, the wetlands were first planted with mixed grasses to attract wildlife that would bring in other seeds.
After a period of monitoring both water levels and plants (including "volunteer" species), landscaping contracts called for additional trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to provide diverse vegetation native to the area. Among the herbaceous plants were arrowhead, fowl manna grass and rice cutgrass. Included in the shrubs were paw paw, buttonbush, hazelnut, black elderberry and milky dogwood, while trees included sycamore, swamp white oak, pin oak, black gum, hemlock and serviceberry.
In the case of the award-winning Sand Run wetland, contract landscaping was not the final step in determining the area's appearance. According to West Virginia Division of Highways biologists, beavers that began to occupy the wetland "did not like the level as designed and added to Highways' layout by recontouring the wetland to THEIR specifications," changing water levels and thereby providing additional enhancement.
Questions and feedback should be directed to Marlys Osterhues (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-366-2052).