By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
The excitement has been building the last few weeks at the Arboretum, because the construction for our latest big exhibit – the Swamp Forest – is just about to get underway. Over the past weekend a pre-construction meeting was held to review the project area and make final preparations for the development of the stream that will be at the center of this forested educational exhibit.
The Swamp Forest exhibit will be created in an area of the Woodland Exhibit measuring approximately four acres, located north of the Arrival Journey bridge. It will connect two main water bodies, the Gum Pond and our two and half acre man-made Piney Woods Pond that is the setting for the Pinecote Pavilion, where many of the Arboretum’s events and celebrations take place.
The new exhibit will serve as an outdoor classroom for area schools and the visiting public. It will focus on the value of forested wetlands in south Mississippi and provide education about the importance of conservation needs and ecological values of this regional habitat type. Wetland tree species native to swamp forests, including black gum (Nyssa biflora), swamp bay (Persea palustris), and sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) are already occurring on the project site.
As specified in Mississippi’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (2003) by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Small Stream Swamp Forests are found within the bottomlands of small streams in the piney woods region, and are considered vulnerable in the state of Mississippi. Within the Small Stream Swamp Forest habitat, community subtypes such as white cedar swamp forest and pond cypress swamps are considered very rare and listed as critically imperiled. Examples of these habitats will be created in the Arboretum’s Swamp Forest Exhibit.
Visitors to our Gum Pond can see the beginning of the Swamp Forest Exhibit. Stand on the pond’s main overlook, and look to the left. You can see how the pond overflow drains to the south. This existing waterway will be sculpted and modified to result in a channel measuring approximately 930 linear feet.
Much of the widening of the existing channel will be done by hand by a crew using shovels. Equipment used will be as small and as light as possible, and plyboard will placed on the ground to reduce the impact of construction on the forest floor. Vegetation removal will also be minimal.
The stream channel will connect to the Arboretum’s Slough Exhibit, currently accessed by the Slough Trail leading north from the Arrival Journey Trail near the first bridge. At the end of this short Slough Trail, you will find an interpretive sign post describing an unusual tree that has been planted in this area, Atlantic white cedar. Following the exhibit construction, more of these trees will be installed, in addition to other species such that will comprise plant communities such as pond cypress flats, beech/magnolia, and bayhead swamps.
A pathway will also be constructed that follows the new stream channel. It will connect to the existing Slough Trail and parallel the stream north to the Gum Pond. In some areas, small bridges will be located to allow the trail to cross over the stream. These will be designed to accommodate the seasonal water flow.
The stream at the center of the Swamp Forest Exhibit will be intermittent, meaning at times, it will have no water flowing through it at all. The channel will be a very subtle change to the existing landscape. During the dry season, with forest litter covering the new stream channel, you may need to look closely to even realize that it is there. However, in other areas, water may collect in small, shallow pools, perhaps providing a new opportunity for forest creatures to take a drink.
Three trails, each around 100 feet long, have already been constructed to allow access into the project area. They all lead west from the North Savanna Trail. These trails will be used for construction access, but will remain following the completion of the exhibit.
The new exhibit will be created within the Arboretum’s Woodland Exhibit, a young wet pine flatwood which previously served as agricultural and forestry land. The original stream corridors for the site were converted to drainage ditches when the site was farmed in the 1930’s. The Crosby Arboretum’s nationally award-winning master plan originally designated this area for wetland forest restoration.
The Swamp Forest Education Exhibit has been made possible by a Five Star Restoration Grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funded by Southern Company, of which Mississippi Power is a subsidiary. Five Star grants provide environmental education and training through projects that restore wetlands and streams. The construction of the Arboretum’s Gum Pond Educational Exhibit was also made possible through a Five Star Restoration Grant.
Conceptual planning and design for the Swamp Forest was performed by Professor Bob Brzuszek’s spring 2011 Land Management graduate seminar class. The class developed a master plan document for the exhibit. They visited area swamp forest ecosystems as a reference, closely examining the regional features of water corridors, and created field sketches and detailed notes on various characteristics of small stream swamp forests.
We invite you to the Arboretum to see the master plan and graphic boards created by Professor Brzuszek’s landscape architecture students. These documents are a beautiful illustration of how this new exhibit will unfold. A plant species list is included in their master plan. On hot summer afternoons, we are looking forward to taking a stroll in the cool shade of our new forested stream exhibit.
For more information, please call the Crosby Arboretum office at 601-799-231 or see our program schedule on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Social media links can be found on our homepage. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration:
Research the definition of a swamp forest. Learn what trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants typical of these areas. What wildlife is found in these areas?