For the birds: Liberty Pond project to integrate native wetland plants

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 8:48 p.m. MDT

Geese swim through construction in the lake at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City Friday, May 30, 2014. The Liberty Park Lake Enhancement project is underway and will establish an emergent wetland around the lake's edge to provide a habitat for birds.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Liberty Pond is for the birds.

Emergent wetland plants are being integrated along the banks of the pond at Liberty Park to enhance the habitat of the estimated 80 species of feathered friends who frequent the area, as well as improve water quality and beautify the park for human visitors.

A competitive grant from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, awarded after the 2010 Chevron oil spill in Red Butte Creek, is funding the Liberty Pond enhancement as part of a four-pronged restoration project.

The first phase of the project is almost complete, said Emy Maloutas, open space lands program manager for Salt Lake City's parks. Earth berms are being placed along the banks where reeds, rushes and other native plants will be able to take root just below the water line.

"If you've been to the lake and seen all the baby Canada geese and ducks that are born there, this is a little bit of protection, and it's a little bit of nesting area and a little bit of forage," Maloutas said.

However, some low, soft fences will be in place until the plants take root to keep them from becoming a birdie buffet.

The plants will serve as natural filters for some sediment and pollution that gets into the lake and will cool the water when hot, summer temperatures can cause algae and botulism outbreaks that harm birds, Maloutas said. Wetlands, she said, function like "the kidneys of the earth."

Birds and humans alike may have noticed fluctuating water levels in the pond during the past few weeks as the project has taken shape. The lake has been drained and refilled to allow the earth berms to be built and to settle, Maloutas said.

A few floating islands are also being added to the ponds.

Phase 2 of the project, which will integrate berms around the habitat island in the pond and will introduce plants, will begin in August.

Maloutas said she hopes the emergent plants will draw new species of birds to the park and help humans learn how to live with them. In the future, improvements around the pond (for people) could include educational signs and bird monitoring activities.

"Hopefully over time as we increase the habitat value we can provide more education and information about how we should coexist with wildlife and what some of our roles and responsibilities could be as citizens and stewards," Maloutas said.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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