Black Swamp Wildflowers dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the natural heritage of Northwest Ohio

Wetland Design Challenge for Student-led Teams

Goal: The primary objective is to design a variety of best practices for initiating, developing and maintaining an effective restoration of local wetland habitat elements. Efforts will aim to recreate the sites' original structure, water cycles and plant communities prior to its destruction. A secondary goal will be a student-led assessment of the success and stability of these practices in coming decades.


The former Great Black Swamp was characterized by soil conditions of frequent saturation with surface and groundwater. Increased drainage exposed some of the most fertile, arable lands on this planet, lands which have stood up well to intensive argicultural production for over 100 years. Aside from its positive outcomes, improvements have come at the expense of natural wetland areas, the prevalence of life adapted to this system, and the natural role these had served within our landscape. Some of the highest biological diversity that had existed in this country has been destroyed almost completely over the last 150 years. The rapid transfer of water from farm fields into field tiles and ditches is responsible for many unwanted consequences. With precipitation above normal, the Portage River regularly exceeds its banks in flood-prone areas, such as Pemberville. It also produces large-scale erosion of fertile farm lands, a decrease in the quality of surface and ground waters, and a threat to the viability of the western basin of Lake Erie through pesticides, fertilizers and silt. Unfortunately, ill-advised attempts to enhance drainage along the entire length of the Portage River via channeling have only exacerbated these problems. The only practical solution resides in the restoration and construction of wetlands at strategic sites that are able to retain, and process, large amounts of precipitation. This will control flooding, recharge and filter groundwater sources for local and regional water cycles, and prevent large quantities of sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides from entering western Lake Erie. In order to counter environmental degradation and its resulting negative economic consequences, the USDA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have created the Lake Erie enhanced Conservation Reserve program (LE-CREP). Its main goal is to improve water quality by reducing sediment pollution and field runoff through the creation of filter strips, riparian buffers, wetlands, and windbreaks.

Sections of a farmfield within the Black Swamp Conservation and Restoration Area have been enrolled in the Lake Erie-enhanced Conservation Reserve program. The wetland section requires that we detail and construct an artificial wetland system at this site. Such a design should optimize the ability to sustain indigenous plant and animal life, support local hydrology, and aid in the restoration of natural chemical processes within the soil. The need for continued management and maintenance should be minimal. It is very likely that the most successful solutions will be derived from recognizing, and then imitating, some of the key features of successful natural habitats. These include a variety of characteristics, such as depth profiles, micro- and macrotopographic features, soil characteristics, and the composition of its plant and animal communities. Moreover, the system will develop and mature and its progression and success over time can be assessed.

Each wetland design entry will feature a deeper pool element and its supporting structures. Within the wetland, these individual elements will be linked to each other with shallow connectors when water tables are high. Each pool is defined as a 5x5m (~15X15') grid element with a maximum depth of 0.5m (~2'). Aside from these basic parameters, teams will be able to design individual versions for such a grid element with an open choice of options. Designs should describe their solution with respect to the basic topographic outline (e.g., depth profile), construction methods (e.g., material and type of compaction), composition of plant communities (e.g., the kinds of forbes and grasses to introduce).

To be considered for this project, students should coordinate a group project and complete it by submitting a folder including; an elevation sketch, a short paper (max. 5 single-spaced pages) that describes the particular design features and explains their role, and a list of proposed plant species and approximate numbers. Submission deadline is 5 June, 2007. Entries can be submitted directly via email to <>, snail mailed to Black Swamp Wildflowers, 4825 Sugar Ridge Rd., Pemberville, OH 43450, or forwarded by your Science Instructor.

Designs will be evaluated by a jury consisting of Ryan Bergman (Wetland Design, Wood County Soil and Water Conservation Districts), Dr. Jeff Miner (Aquatic Ecology, BGSU), Dr. Karen Sirum (Biology Education Research and Development, BGSU), and Jan Hunter (Naturally Native Nursery). The best designs will be chosen and are scheduled to be constructed within the Black Swamp Conservation Area during the Fall of 2007.

Teacher's Package

Restoration ecology is a science in its very infancy and it is clearly a daunting task to attempt to bring back, to the degree possible, biological systems that established since glaciers receded from this area 20,000 years ago. No simple recipe, prescriptions, or management practices exist. We have begun assembling a teacher's package with instructional materials as to the current state of knowledge in this complex topic.

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