A proposal for reclassification of the Walnut Creek Wetland to a nature preserve

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Master of Natural Resources Professional Papers (North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources)

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North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources


Graham, Sherry Anne. A proposal for reclassification of the Walnut Creek Wetland to a Nature Preserve. (Under the direction of committee chair Dr. Gary Blank and committee members Dr. George Hess and Dr. Roger Moore). The Walnut Creek Wetland Center opened in September of 2009 aiming to increase awareness about the benefits wetlands provide. The center is situated in a 48 acre wetland owned and managed by the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. Although establishment of the Walnut Creek Wetland Center was brilliant, the surrounding open space still requires procedures and funding to address problems like invasive species, erosion, poor access to the wetland, lack of properly trained staff to handle spontaneous arrivals of unattended children, and influxes of litter washed from upstream. The land surrounding the center is categorized in different use classes, with none of them being preserve or park. The 48 acre tract is designated as greenway by Raleigh Parks, which is a land use class managed more for human access rather than protection of natural resources. In 2011, the City of Raleigh Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources adopted criteria to guide establishment of nature preserves. The Walnut Creek wetland has never been formally assessed for suitability as a nature preserve but according to my estimation, it meets five of the first eight Nature Preserve criteria and all of the additional criteria for a total of 10/13. Hence, I propose a formal assessment prior to expenditure of bond funds. In this document I set forth factors to make this a high priority for natural resource managers within the City of Raleigh. Factors set forth as motivation for reclassification are: (1) Socio-economic motivation (2) Historical land use, specifically how it informs future land use (3) Current inventory assessments of wetland function and habitat (4) Adherence to the City of Raleigh 2030 Comprehensive Plan and hence the newly adopted Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources System Plan. Research on these four factors confirmed that the neighborhood just north of the WCWC is one of the most economically depressed in the city. Current quality of ecosystem function and habitat are medium in the wetland, which indicates potential for restoration. Biodiversity and human access are low but bond funding will eventually be available. Historical research shows that rich habitat once did exist; even now a relatively diverse habitat exists despite a two-mile proximity to a major metropolitan area in a sustained period of population growth. In response to population growth the City of Raleigh adopted the System Plan. The Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources System Plan sets forth the current Level of Service for Nature Preserves by establishing that each citizen should live within five miles of a Nature Preserve. There is not a preserve within a 5 mile radius of the majority of citizens in southeast Raleigh. Establishment of a Preserve in the Walnut Creek Wetland would satisfy this Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources objectives by increasing level of service while protecting ecosystem services. In anticipation of a Master Plan, the wetland is being proposed for designation as a Nature Preserve with funding, management, and protection beyond that of a traditional park. A unique proximity to both downtown and connection to other protected properties makes habitat improvement in the Walnut Creek wetland an ideal resolution for the immediate neighborhood, urbanites in downtown Raleigh, and the ecosystem itself. To improve habitat, five actions are recommended. (1)Reclassify the Walnut Creek Wetland from greenway to Nature Preserve. (2) Dedicate funds to the Nature Preserve to control access and ensure the most sensitive areas see minimal impact. (3) Preserve and protect the area to expand Significant Natural Heritage Areas via ecosystem restoration efforts designed to increase occurrences of heritage species. (4) Protect water quality by taking measures to reduce influx of litter from Little Rock Creek and pinpoint the sources of other pollutants; and (5) Strengthen community outreach to increase awareness that healthy streams are a community asset and wetlands are an integral aspect of healthy urban infrastructure and economy due to the ecosystem services they provide.