Project turns industrial wasteland into natural wonder

Project Summary: A former industrial wasteland in the Duluth-Superior harbor is now a restored wetland and one of the region’s best birding areas.

 

Project name: Grassy Point restoration.

Location: Duluth, Minnesota.

Description: Grassy Point is a 100-acre estuary in the lower the St. Louis, near the river’s confluence with Lake Superior. It was one of many coastal wetlands that ringed Duluth-Superior harbor before logging companies transformed it into an industrial port

Grassy Point wetland in Duluth, Minnesota. Removing wood waste from abandoned factories has helped restore the health of the wetland. Photo from U.S. EPA, taken by P. Collins.

Grassy Point wetland in Duluth, Minnesota. Removing wood waste from abandoned factories has helped restore the health of the wetland. Photo from U.S. EPA, taken by P. Collins.

in the late-1800s and early 1900s. Before the logging companies arrived, natural grasses in the lower St. Louis River were so abundant that some explorers struggled to find the river channel, according to published reports.  By 1890, several sawmills around the harbor were churning out lumber harvested from hillsides surrounding the bay and beyond. The mills were erected just off-shore, so that logs could be floated up and then processed wood was loaded on railroad spurs raised above the water. In the infamous 1918 Cloquet fire, the mills burned down. Remnants of some mills still poke above the water. The fire broke out near the end of the logging era that swept across the Great Lakes basin, and the lumber mills were never rebuilt. The mills did leave a lasting reminder of logging operations in the bay: Tons of timber and wood waste. Layers of soggy wood waste, up to 16-feet-deep in some areas, suffocated fish and wildlife habitat at Grassy Point.  Local, state and federal officials launched a plan in the early-1990s to restore the site. To make the wetland suitable again for fish and wildlife, crews used backhoes to remove tons of soggy wood waste and restore natural channels. Workers then reseeded the marsh by tossing bags of rocks laced with seeds into the water, where they sank to the bottom. Crews also planted cedars and white pine, extended a bike path into the site, built a boardwalk and a viewing platform for birders. The restoration work was completed in 1996. The site is now home to dozens of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. It is considered one of the best spring birding areas in the Duluth area.

Approximate cost of project: $340,000, half of which was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office.

Resource challenges addressed: Loss of coastal wetlands and the fish and wildlife habitat they provided.

Key partners (public and private): St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, City of Duluth, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office.

Types of jobs created: Fish and wildlife biologists, ecologists, landscape architects, heavy equipment operators and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: Removing 11,000 cubic yards of wood waste from the wetland at Grassy Point created wildlife habitat that attracts dozens of bird species every spring. New trails provided public access to the site.

Web site: http://www.duluthmn.gov/parks/trails,-rivers-streams/trails/trail-pages/grassy-point/

Originally Published: November 11, 2013

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