Thursday, 24 March 2011

St. Marys River Marshes

by Gregory Zimmerman

For me, much of the appeal of the St. Marys River is that its mainly natural river bank. Only a small portion of the river bank is, as the river scientists say, ‘armored.’ River bank armor includes sea walls, concrete, rip-rap, and other man-made structures. Through the twin Saults, the shoreline has been armored, but along most of the rest of the river, it’s still in a more natural state, serving as habitat for a wide diversity of plants, animals and other organisms.

Of the variety of habitats, the marshes are among my favorites. Maybe it’s that I moved here from the prairies and plains and still carry an appreciation for grasses and open sky. I like wide open views. It can be fun to be the tallest thing in the landscape.

Maybe marshes are a favorite because they represent a natural heritage in short supply in other places where people have filled them in for construction projects. Much of the St. Marys River shoreline is still in its ‘un-improved’ state. When I visit other rivers, I get a sad feeling when I see a lack of natural habitat. Where the Mississippi has been converted to a channel (that people think they’re able to manage), it’s something else other than the Father of Waters. The St. Clair River is diminished from its natural state in many ways, one of which is the fact that almost all of its banks are steel, concrete and rip-rap.

I recently visited the St. Clair River to learn of the restoration projects that will bring a mile of native habitat back. It’s an expensive proposition to put nature back. Here on the St. Marys River we have 60+ miles of that without having to spend millions. I guess that makes ours a multi-million dollar view.

When I stand on the bank of a marsh or paddle by and into it, I think my academic thoughts of the species and the valuable ecosystem services they provide. I think of the ecological processes at play and the need to conserve the marsh, preventing invasive species from taking over, encouraging good management practices to prevent the inputs of pollutants, preventing contaminated sediments from re-entering the system. All the kinds of things I teach classes in. But that’s not what really draws me to the marshes. It’s the view that draws me there. Where land gradually gives way to water, where land and water meet sky. Where you can gaze across miles of open space.

Whether for work or recreation, love to visit and re-visit my favorite marsh sites such as 9-Mile Marsh and Munuscong Marsh.

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