Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ojai Wetlands Project Opens To Public

Besides the ecological value of the restored wetlands, it acts as a sponge to soak up storm runoff and prevent flooding.

By Nao Braverman
After being fenced in for months, tantalizing outdoor enthusiasts and curious neighbors, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s Meadows Preserve and wetlands restoration project is finally open to the public.
All the major grading and excavation has been completed. Tiny California poppy, lupin, and vetch seedlings, along with countless other wildflowers are popping up across the meadow, and lazy streams meander through the property collecting in several vernal pools. The fencing around the 58-acre lot along Ojai Avenue next to the Nordhoff High School football field was taken down Friday.
The project site had been surrounded by fencing since since November 2007, keeping the public out, while conservancy employees have corrected the waterways, redirected a sewer line that was in the way, and established vernal pools, said Derek Poultney, the Land Conservancy’s project manager.
Already OVLC staff have seen a tremendous influx in wildlife. The swales are filled with tadpoles, a variety of new bird species have made their nests, and a newly spotted weasel is expected to provide much-needed rodent control in the area, said Poultney. Unfortunately some less coveted wildlife also comes hand in hand with the project. Nearby residents may be getting a few more mosquitos this year, but vector control comes to the meadow and stocks the open water with mosquito fish every week, said Poultney.
The Conservancy has already begun leading frequent nature walks along trails through the walks along trails through the newly opened meadow. Volunteer docents have been offering tour participants a bit of the project site’s history.
The wetlands that are being restored did thrive until the early 1900s when settlers cleared the woodlands for cattle grazing and development.
The restoration is expected to alleviate flooding on Highway 33 by redirecting stormwater onto the wetlands retention basin. Early spring rains have proved the flood mitigation aspects successful so far, said Poultney. In addition to flood control the wetlands are also intended to improve water quality and facilitate groundwater recharge, by trapping and filtering water in the freshwater marsh and releasing it slowly back into the ground.
Already mallards, cattails, redwing blackbirds have thrived on the newly established waterways. The meandering stream has been lined with young willow branches which are expected to root and grow in the coming years.
Anyone interested in taking a guided tour along the trails through the newly opened wetlands preserve can look for upcoming nature walks posted on the Land Conservancy web site at OVLC.org. The conservancy is also training volunteers docents who can sign up for a training by calling the conservancy at 649-6852.

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