Townsend-Grady Wetlands Update

“You learn something new every day”. My grandmother always used to say that whenever I assumed I knew everything, and proven I knew less than the obvious. As I grow older and experience more days, I understand that statement more and more. When I first began to volunteer in the efforts taking place at the FLM&A, I thought I knew what to expect. I had a background in biology, and I knew I had a desire to help manage and preserve our natural resources. So when the museum director, Natalie Payne asked me to begin constructing something of a “bio assessment” I thought “ok, I’ll get to work on that”. Then came the day I stepped in to the Townsend Grady wildlife preserve, full of intention to begin documenting what we were working with. I walked a few hundred feet into what was then a completely un-modified section of woods, and looked around. My mind sort of panicked and froze at the same time. There was the soil, the underbrush, the trees, the animals, the insects, and that was only the land. What about the water? The lake and creek were another entire ecosystem partitioned from the land, but also intricately connected at the roots; literally. Where do I start?

After a few unproductive weeks, I contacted a few people who I thought could help. Two of my professors from Keuka College, Bill Brown and Katherine Klingensmith; both of whom had knowledgeable but also very different assessments of the condition of the wetland. The museum also contacted a local sage in the field of forestry: Marty Dodge. Marty as it turned out, had yet another perspective of what we were working with, and plenty of information on how to manage it. Between the three of them, I had so much data and experience on my plate that I once again found myself in a confusing predicament. As time went on I began to positively identify trees, wildflowers, insects and whatever it was I could see in the water. After six months with little direction and little to nothing of substance, I began to doubt my own role in the effort of assessing this ecosystem. All of that was in the middle of the worst drought the area had seen in over 100 years: Technically the fifth driest spring and summer since 1871.

Terry Schmitz of Broccolo Tree and Lawn care came on board in the winter of ’16-‘17. He had a working knowledge of the ecosystem like I had never encountered. He immediately identified species of plants and animals that I had currently struggled with for weeks or months (field guide books are only so helpful). Together we began to really get a feel for the condition of the wetland and forest. We began to identify key native species of plants and animals, identify invasive species, and construct plans for improving the ecosystem of the preserve.

During the summer of 2016 Jim Higgins (a key player in grounds work and equipment operation at the museum) was able to work in areas that this year, were under almost two feet of water compared to the same time last year. It rained every week, and almost every day for three months. Dry areas became flooded, and previously established trails turned in to temporary rivers. At one point a trail on the east side of Townsend Road had developed a steady flow of water that spanned almost ten feet, and was almost two feet deep at the height of the spring rain. This trail was the main access for the east side forest just last year. It’s the main access route to a stand of majestic White oak and Shagbark hickory. This area contains some of the oldest trees and most established, undisturbed forest on the property and we still haven’t fully assessed the dynamics of this trail. Together with the constantly changing plans are the permits. The DEC requires the Museum to state their intentions for creating or modifying trails, and sets limits to where, and what you can change. Building boardwalks and observation platforms all require an application and approval process. Approvals for some of the planned development in the preserve were only completed just this summer. So gathering the people and resources for these projects is still underway.

Concerns of the progress taking place in the preserve have been heard. We understand that donors, volunteers, and (most importantly), the local community have been observing this natural resource with the expectation that progress be made. The process of understanding this dynamic and ever-changing environment will never truly be complete, but we are working toward our best efforts to bring these areas back to their prime. The recent fluctuations in weather patterns have caused us to pause temporarily, and allow our assessment to be vetted more completely. If we would have acted on our assessment for boardwalks and platforms last year, we may have unintentionally invested frivolously in the final layout of the museum property. On top of our concern with investor resources, is our charge with the preservation of delineated wetland. There are New York DEC regulations which we must consider and abide by in order to stay within the boundaries of our responsibilities. As the wetland and forested areas continue to fluctuate with the apparent minimum and maximum recent hydrology, we at the museum are taking notes, and considering options. We still need any donations we can find in the way of used or scrap materials that anyone can offer. Steel plating, sections of old docks and pilings, and used lumber could be of great use to us and help us stretch the current funds even farther. We want this opportunity for public outreach to be most beneficial to both our wetland, and to the people who will inevitably have an effect on its future. Just like everyone involved we are eager to see progress; but just like everyone involved, we are learning something new every day. Thank you for your support, and thank you for your patience. -Phil

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