Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chistina River Marshes

Looking over the Christina River and its fringing marshes.  
Wilmington, Delaware is in the background.

Every other month or so on a Friday morning, 10 of my colleagues and I gather for two hours of professional development, camaraderie, bitch sessions, and a sub sandwich lunch.  The venue circulates amongst our various organizations.  Yesterday, we met (for the first time) at the nearly new DuPont Environmental Education Center built in the marshlands on the banks of the freshwater tidal Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware

Like all tidal marshes on the East Coast, the marshes of the Christina River have been abused during the centuries of European settlement.  The location selected for the environmental education center had actually been filled with fly ash generated by coal-fired power plants.  To erect the building, the ash was excavated, and 212 acres of marshes were restored.

After tidal flow was re-established, though, a monoculture of Phragmites (common reed) quickly took over, limiting the ecological value of the new marsh.  So, the caretakers worked to control the Phragmites, and did a pretty good job.  Then, the marshes were overwhelmed by narrow-leaf cattail, another invasive species. which is where the situation currently stands.  Fortunately, there are clones of native broad-leaf cattail among the non-native cattailsin the marsh, and there are extensive and spreading stands of wild rice, which the land stewards safeguard and encourage. 
The environmental education building was actually built and is owned by a municipal authority charged with trying to re-develop and re-energize the Christina riverfront.  The redevelopment authority leases the building to the Delaware Nature Society for environmental education, but it also hosts parties on the upper floor for well-heeled clients.  The building, which is not LEED certified (i.e., is not especially environmentally friendly), and the extensive new boardwalk through the marshes cost $11.3 million.  Yikes!  That's a lot of parties to host to pay back that investment.  But the building is shiny, new and has a lot of "wow" factor, and the view from the upper floor over the river and marshes is breathtaking. 
Artwork gracing the entranceway
Unfortunately, an active railroad line separates the building from the main commercial part of the Christina riverfront, so the site is somewhat isolated.  For birders and nature lovers, that's a plus, but for casual visitors and the general public, visiting requires making a real effort.  The railroad would not allow an at-grade publicly-accessible crossing, so the redevelopment authority was forced to build a long, 3-story-high pedestrian bridge to span the tracks (visible on the right in the image above the owl sculpture).  It's an impressive entrance experience, but the Delaware Nature Society feels that it puts off some potential visitors. 


packrat said...

Fascinating stuff, Scott. I really appreciate these posts that educate me about things I know almost nothing about. Good job.

Scott said...

I guess it's a form of environmental education, Packrat! Thanks for your vote of confidence!