Nature program educates about project

Participants of the nature walk discuss the Fallbrook Dam project. The walk was hosted by Rice Creek Field Station.   (Jihyoung Son | The Oswegonian)
Participants of the nature walk discuss the Fallbrook Dam project. The walk was hosted by Rice Creek Field Station. (Jihyoung Son | The Oswegonian)

Last Saturday, Oswego State held the naturalist-led walk event, Rice Creek Restored and Running Free, for visitors from the Oswego community to take a hike to Rice Creek and discuss the Fallbrook Pond Dam Removal Project.

This event was the first of three sessions of Oswego State’s Rice Creek Field Station fall programming launched this semester called: Sharing Science.

Nichole Thibado, the part-time naturalist in Rice Creek Field Station, gave a talk by the Fallbrook Pond to a couple of visitors from the Oswego community. Rice Creek Field Station announced the visit through its website and local newspapers such as the Palladium Times and the Valley News Online.

The Fallbrook Dam Removal Project is a habitat restoration project ongoing since June 2012 under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program. Oswego State partnered with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (Fisheries Bureau), Auxiliary Services and the Black River – St. Lawrence River Resource Conservation District & Development Project Inc. to implement the $62,000 project, which restores stream habitat and ecological function.

Fallbrook Dam was originally built in 1895 to generate power to a mill adjacent to the pond. According to Thibado, the problem was, due to natural receding of the flow of water, sediments began to seed behind the dam, which caused the disruption of the ecosystem.

After the mill shut down, the decision was made to notch the dam.

“We are not currently taking a certain action to bring it back to what it used to be,” Thibado said during the talk. “The best thing we expect is that the pond gets recovered naturally so that we would never have to do this again.”

The project concluded last summer. It ended up removing the remnants of the dam and instead placing the large stone works last August, to facilitate the flow of water and add to the natural aesthetics of the stream, according to Steven Baker, assistant director of Auxiliary Services.

The Dam Removal Project has proved itself to be effective in enhancing biodiversity in Fallbrook Pond.

The faculty and students of Oswego State conducted research titled, “The effects of dam removal on plant succession along a riparian zone at Fallbrook Pond, Oswego, NY.” By sampling the vegetation growth around Fallbrook, they led to a conclusion that dam removal has led to the restoration of the ecosystem back to what it previously was before the dam was constructed.

According to the research conducted by professor C. Eric Hellquist and his students, aquatic hydrophytes began to dominate the pond since the construction of the dam. However, after the dam removal, the ecosystem of the pond faced the disturbance, which means it began to have room for hydrophytes of wetland and terrestrial species to grow up. The biodiversity in the pond increased, while the volume of biomass remained status quo.

“The overall theme of the study is to examine patterns of plant succession as a new habitat (the sediments of the former Fallbrook Pond) exposed and available for colonization,” Hellquist said. “The plants are recolonizing from the seedbank in the sediments as well as from wind and animal dispersal of seeds into the basin. It is a rather unusual opportunity to be able to see how species abundances change following a dam’s removal.”

The dam removal project also re-established six miles of upstream passage for brook trout and American eel along Rice Creek, a tributary of Lake Ontario.

Also, last April, during Quest, Oswego State’s annual daylong symposium, the faculty and students gave presentations on the impact of the dam and the removal project. The presentation showed that the dam removal project led to a lowering of the aquifer system water level.

After the naturalist-led walk was over, the group moved to the Rice Creek Field Station. Thibago showed the visitors the newly opened Rice Creek Field Station, which included a rain garden, bird-feeding station, observatory, herb garden named after Ruth Sachidanandan and building-certified LEED gold, equipped with high-technology.

“I love offering programs that connect science to others,” Thibado said. “I was also glad it was such a nice day.”

The following events of the Sharing Science from Rice Creek Field Station include “Wonderful World of Wood Ducks,” the lecture by professor Michael Schummer in waterfowl ecology, planned on Oct. 19, and “Bat Ecology and Conservation,” where Noelle Rayman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will share facts on bats. All programs will take place on selected Saturdays at 1 p.m. at the renewed Rice Creek Field Station.