Landowners work together for wetland restoration

Wahibo Marsh is a little slice of heaven located not far from the southwest shores of Lake Waconia and thanks to the efforts of its landowners, local citizens will be enjoying the scenic wetland for a long, long time.
The marsh’s name is based on the last names of its landowners, Don Wagener, Ron Hilk, and Doris Boehmke.
By working in partnership with state and federal programs, the trio recently completed a process that sets the site into a permanent easement that’s focused on restoring wetlands, wildlife habitat, and water quality. Although the landowners sold the easement rights to those programs, the land is still held in private ownership.
The Waconia Township site is comprised of approximately 90 acres, but only about 50 acres of it is restored wetland. The marsh is a basin that drains water from about 600 acres of farmland directly into Lake Waconia.
“I’m glad it’s here. I think it looks nice,” said Boehmke said of the marsh. “All I ever wanted was to have the water from my farm run into Lake Waconia and it’s nice for the wildlife to have this habitat.”
The landowners worked with Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).
RIM is a state program that encourages private citizens and organizations to help fund the acquisition and development of critical fish and wildlife habitat by having their donations of land or cash matched from a special state fund. The federal WRP program works to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands with the goal to achieve the greatest wetland functions and optimum wildlife habitat on every acre enrolled in WRP.
Local conservation experts are happy to see the project become a reality, especially considering the size of the site, which is considered pretty large for Carver County, and the fact there are multiple landowners involved.
“The landowners had to work through the process and we appreciate their commitment to the project,” said Keith Kloubec, the District Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It was a high priority site just due to the proximity to Lake Waconia. The WRP has a large focus on migrating birds and waterfowl and this is a great wetland for lots of wildlife.”
Kloubec noted that the marsh actually contains the 2 millionth acre of land devoted to the WRP, a milestone that was celebrated a few years ago. The process to restore the marsh actually began over three years ago with closings on the property occurring in the winter of 2010 and summer of 2012. The marsh’s old infrastructure was pulled out in the fall of 2011 and a new water control structure was installed in the marsh in the fall of 2012. The landowners paid for the restoration costs and were reimbursed by the state and federal programs.
Kloubec added that because of its high visibility to passing motorists, Wahibo Marsh is located in an ideal location to promote the state and federal conservation programs.
Greg Graczyk of the Carver County Soil and Water Conservation District echoed Kloubec’s appreciation to the landowners for working together to create Wahibo Marsh.
“Any potential project to increase the water quality downstream, which in this case would be Lake Waconia, a major water body, is an important project,” said Graczyk, who noted that these types of projects are becoming more common and benefit many types of wildlife.
For example, Wahibo Marsh will serve local populations of waterfowl as well as provide a resting spot for migrating birds that don’t breed in the area. A variety of shoreline bird species and trumpeter swans will also benefit from the marsh, as will countless amphibians and other types of wildlife.
“As this wetland matures, it becomes a spot that’s suitable for them to breed,” said Graczyk, who explained that the marsh features native grasslands that will provide buffering and upland habitat.
Officials expect the wetlands, which are located on a site that largely served as a sod farm up until a few years ago, to reach maturity, at least vegetation-wise, in about four years. The restoration actually brings the site full circle as it originally was a wetland until the early 1900s, when it was drained for agricultural purposes.
The easement agreements do not allow for any sort of trails or walking paths at the marsh so citizens will just have to enjoy Wahibo Marsh — that little slice of heaven — from afar.

Contact Todd Moen at todd.moen@ecm-inc.com

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