Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Retention Basin Beauty

Most visitors to Farmview Fields, across the Great Road from Coventry Farm, go there for soccer or baseball. I was there last week to check out the retention basin. It's tucked behind the soccer field, in the far back of this photo, essentially a big scooped out area designed to hold stormwater runoff from the parking lot and slowly release it into the stream, in this case Pretty Brook. They're common in housing and office developments around town, and are usually mowed to look like sunken lawns.
Most don't draw attention, but this one actually has a sign, and is mowed only once a year, if that. To the right of the mowed pathway you can see big bluestem grass leaning this way and that, fine fodder for the woodland bison that once lived hereabouts.
When I was naturalist for Friends of Princeton Open Space, and visiting the park to watch my daughter's soccer games, I decided that the mowed retention basin was an eyesore and a waste of gas. Its short grass wasn't doing a very good job of filtering nutrients and pollutants out of the runoff, and the turf was of little use for wildlife.

Eric Schrading of Partners for Fish and Wildlife came to the rescue, offering to replace the turf with native "warm season" grasses (Indian grass and big bluestem are tallgrass prairie species that do most of their growing during the hot summer months). The effort was federally funded, at no cost to Princeton Township.

Despite the requisite drought (there's always a drought after someone plants a native prairie), many of the grasses grew and prospered, and I added some local genotype wildflowers like Hibiscus moscheutos and late-flowering boneset. Goldenrods came in on their own.

Here's the before shot, in 2006.
Here's the basin last week. The late-flowering boneset (white) has spread, and in the distance is a nice patch of woolgrass (reddish brown) that came in on its own. This is the best shot I have thus far to show the potential for turning drab basins into beautiful habitat.

Last week, the monarch butterflies were clearly in agreement with the change, feasting on nectar in preparation for their long flight south to Mexico.

Note: A post from 2006, prior to this transformation, can be found here. (

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