One of the most popular areas of the Humana Grand Allee in Beckley Creek Park is the Allee Wetlands, and for good reason—the wetlands contains some of the most diverse plants and wildlife The Parklands has to offer. The area was specifically chosen to be preserved as wetland because it is one of the few places in the park with hydric soil. This soil type stays saturated for a long enough period of the year that it becomes anaerobic and promotes the growth of hydrophytic vegetation such as rushes, sedges, water lilies and cattails.
To create the wetlands you see today, the soil was dug out and tiered. Drains were then installed to route water from the pond behind the Bell Barn, located just across the street. The water is filtered through drainage swales and a smaller wetland before it reaches the Allee Wetlands. The pond stays between two and four feet deep year round depending on rainfall. When the water level reaches a certain height, it drains into another swale between the Festival Promenade and the Signature Tree Grove. Seeds and plugs of many native wetland plant species were then sown and planted to provide the flora you see today.
There isn’t much growing at this time of year, but the area is still very peaceful and welcoming. Referring to the still-standing dead stems of plants in a landscape, garden designer Piet Oudolf reminds us that “Brown is also a color”. There is a lot to appreciate about the temporarily static Wetlands during the winter months. However, if green is more your color, you will be able to enjoy a change of scenery soon enough. Some of my favorite plants around the Wetlands include Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), Creeping Water Primrose (Ludwigia palustris), and Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).
If you aren’t a plant nerd like I am, the wildlife around the Wetlands is enough to keep you coming back. It is a very popular area for bird watching. I see some of the same faithful birders and photographers out there every week. During the warmer parts of the year, you are likely to be circled by swallows as you cross the boardwalk or encounter a Bobwhite darting across the path in front of you going from meadow to meadow. Lately, a Great Blue Heron, a bunch of ducks, geese and a few Killdeer here and there make up most of what I see.
On multiple occasions, I have even seen a Bald Eagle hanging out around the sports fields and in the large Ash tree in the Country Walk. Other commonly spotted critters include gigantic Bullfrogs, a Muskrat or two living in a push-up at the south end of the pond and of course, our resident ducks.
Last year, we brought in domesticated ducks to help control aquatic weeds and they quickly became the stars of the Wetlands. One of our team members even built a floating house to help keep them safe from predators. Late last year, the two Muscovy ducks were nesting inside the house. Now, you can see their growing duckling following them around the pond.
Preserving the integrity of the area is a big concern. Invasive species are always trying to creep in and must be dealt with. Native wetland species provide an important source of food for wildlife. Many of the non-native plant species that try to take over offer little to no value and often outcompete the more valuable native species.
Erosion of the drainage swales that feed into the Wetlands is another constant battle. When soil erodes, excess nutrients flow into the water and can promote algal blooms as well as have a negative effect on the delicate balance of the ecosystem. To prevent further erosion, biodegradable jute netting was installed in the swales and live stakes were planted to help keep the soil in place. A live stake is a large hardwood cutting taken from a shrub, such as a Dogwood or Willow, that is planted in late Winter or very early Spring. They have no branches or leaves and look just like a big stick. The species I used included Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum). I also planted a few Black Willow (Salix nigra) and Silky Willow (Salix sericea) along the southern edge of the main wetlands to provide a little shade over the water and help with algae issues. The more sunlight a pond gets, the more likely it is to have a problem with excessive algae growth.
The Allee Wetlands is a real jewel of The Parklands. There is something special about the environment—the sights, the sounds, and even the smell of it. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. The diversity of life in this small area is spectacular and breathtaking. If you come to the park looking for plants, wildlife, solitude, or just somewhere the kids will enjoy, the Wetlands is what you’re looking for.
Matt Jenne was born and raised in Louisville, KY. He attended Eastern Kentucky University and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Horticulture in 2012. While he was in school, he worked for Louisville Metro Parks as a member of the Landscape Division. Matt started as a Park Attendant for the Parklands in early 2013 and was promoted to Zone Gardener shortly afterwards. He currently manages the plantings in the Humana Grand Allee, and also runs his own landscape business on the side. In his free time, Matt enjoys hiking, camping and gardening.