Ella Beezley, 9, didn’t pause a second when it came to reaching inside the clear plastic box. Squiggly things don’t faze the Leesburg, Ind., girl, said her mother, Hope Beezley.
Ella reached into the box and felt around with her fingers, looking for the small life forms that Lost River Cave naturalist Annie Holt had pulled out of the Lost River Cave wetlands with a net moments earlier.
The wetlands project is in its fourth summer, said Rho Lansden, executive director of the Friends of Lost River Inc.
“This was the phase-two Environmental Protection Agency requirement for stormwater treatment,” Lansden said.
“They (the EPA) wanted an educational project, so we constructed a wetlands,” she said, calling the project a public-private partnership. Friends of Lost River has a 12-member volunteer board and several hundred dues-paying members.
Lansden said the wetlands is just now coming into its own, the selected plants reaching up to the sky, providing habitat for wildlife.
“The wildlife love this,” Lansden said. “It is doing what it is intended to do.”
Holt explained that the wetlands acts as a natural way to remove possible contaminants from stormwater runoff from U.S. 31-W and the William H. Natcher Parkway. The land sits at the rear of the parking lot of the Lost River Cave complex off Nashville Road.
The natural approach to stormwater management replaced injection wells that the city of Bowling Green used, Holt said. The water that washes off nearby highways goes into a gutter system that eventually dumps into a retention pond.
The water then goes into the wetlands. The plants and soil type selected for the wetlands is designed to clean the contaminants that could be contained in the stormwater.
Holt said with Wednesday being summer solstice – the longest day of the year – the wetlands was a perfect place to study habitat of the wildlife, study the human impact on the wetlands and also study the plants that make up the ecosystem.
The soil in the wetlands, on top of a plastic liner, is a hydrophyllic variety that “loves to be wet,” Holt said.
Holt was on the ground floor of the wetlands project, first working as a geologist at Western Kentucky University on a committee that designed the wetlands, and eventually serving as the naturalist at Lost River Cave.
“When I did the geo-technical work on this (at WKU), I never dreamed I would eventually be taking children through it, looking at frogs,” she said.
For Ella, the fun was in the exploring. Her mother spied a sign advertising the wetlands activity at Lost River Cave while the family is in town visiting.
“Dad was going to a ballgame, so we were trying to find something to do,” Hope Beezley said of her husband, Mike Beezley.
While there is plenty of water right now in the wetlands, the incessant heat could eventually lower the amount. Holt said the ecosystem has a backup plan for a water supply – water from State Trooper Cave. When needed, that water goes into the retention pond first, since it is a chilly 54 degrees when it comes from the underground stream that traverses the property, and to put it directly into the wetland would chill the plants and kill them.
The wetlands is designed like a puzzle, with each plant serving a purpose. More drought-tolerant plants are on the edges of the wetlands, while other plants that need more water are placed in the center. It supports an ecosystem filled with frogs and birds and many other animals. The land behind the Lost River complex is just under 70 acres.
After Ella was done poking and prodding in the box, she eventually walked through the wetlands with her mother, carrying a four pages of pictures of various wildlife to try and spy.
Her mission was to find a broadleaf arrowhead, a red-winged blackbird, ornamental ladysthumb, a red-eared slider, a daisy fleabane, a bullfrog, common rush, Mallard ducks, cattails, a river birch tree, bulrush, switchgrass, Queen Anne’s lace, an American White waterlilly and a Halberd leaf rosemallow.
She returned, bright-eyed and excited that she had found many of the items pictured.
“This is right up her alley,” her mother said.