Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Urban Nature Park Under Construction

Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Urban Nature Park Under Construction

By Ryan Koziatek, Stewardship Field Director, Kalamazoo Nature Center

As Richard Louv points out in his book Last Child in the Woods, it has become more apparent in our increasingly “plugged-in” lifestyles that having healthy green spaces and habitats are key to having healthy children, families, and communities. The Kalamazoo Nature Center aims to prove this concept with the Urban Nature Park in downtown Kalamazoo. We are taking a 4-acre brownfield, rehabilitating it with native plants, and establishing a safe and accessible park.
The Kalamazoo Nature Center acquired the urban property in 2005, an urban property on Portage Creek that was cluttered with broken-up concrete slabs, scrap metal, and coal remains from the lot’s previous life as a rail yard. Although it was a mess, we weren’t discouraged—we had a vision of an oasis that would add to Kalamazoo’s mosaic of a continuously improving downtown and we had a multi-step plan:

  1. Remove waste from past industrial activities;
  2. Wetland restoration and boardwalk construction; and
  3. Upland restoration with native plants and construction of a pathway for visitors.

By 2007, we cleaned up all the debris and then we learned of the U.S. EPA’s plan to clean-up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from sec­tions of Portage Creek, including an area that bisected the Urban Na­ture Park. The removal of the contaminants was part of a much need­ed cleanup related to the Allied Paper, Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund site. After hundreds of soil core samples measured the effectiveness of the PCB cleanup, we received the go ahead to continue with restoration.

Once all the snow melts this spring, I can’t wait to get going on the next phase of the project restoring the wetland. We’ll start by removing the sediments from a railroad bed, restoring an old bridge, building a boardwalk, and then lots of planting. In 2015, we plan to focus on the restoration of adjacent upland areas by planting an oak savanna.
One highlight of the project has been the chance to help transform an industrial piece of land into a thriving habitat that includes hu­mans; a place that can remind us of our connection to the natural world. It’s also motivating and exciting to watch the enthusiasm for the project grow amongst all of the project partners and residents. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are looking forward to sharing this biologically diverse green space in our growing community for all to enjoy!

For more information about the Urban Nature Park, contact the Stewardship Field Director, Ryan Koziatek, at rkoziatek@naturecen­ter.org.

Information on the EPA’s efforts can be found at www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/kalproject/.
The EPA process to dredge the contaminated soils involved diverting the water and drying the stream bed, thus preventing PCBs from being stirred up and flowing into the Kalamazoo River.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.