Waynesboro's Bringing Back Wetlands

Nov 6, 2019

Wetlands go by many names -- marshes, bogs, swamps and bayous, but whatever they’re called, the fact is they’re disappearing here in Virginia.  More than half – 118 million acres – have been drained and developed since the first settlers arrived.  Now, however, some communities are reversing that trend.

Wetlands are useful places – providing habitat for birds and butterflies, frogs and snakes, while preventing floods, erosion and water pollution after heavy rains.  That’s why Waynesboro decided to restore ten acres in the middle of a city neighborhood.  

“What we did is we came in and we terraced several levels of wetland pools," says Trafford Mcrae, an engineer with the city's department of public works. "The water winds  its way through those pools. which gives more time for pollution to settle out, and  for the vegetation to soak up nutrients.”

Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen which run off roads, yards and farm fields, had been flowing to the Chesapeake Bay where they caused algae blooms and dead zones.

Waynesboro also put in tall grass and other native plants.

“Some cardinal flowers, irises, witch hazel, red-stemmed dogwood, cedars, there are some river birch sprinkled in through here," Mcrae says.

You might expect neighbors to complain when a swamp replaced their manicured detention basin.  In fact, Mcrae says, most people like the wild look of the Mulberry Run Wetland.

“People can come out and  enjoy being part of this ecosystem that is somewhat unique in an urban setting. We intentiaonally keep some paths mowed so that people can come out and walk,” he explains. 

The project took three years and cost $1.7 million – much of it provided by government grants and loans.  

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.