History of the Wetlands at UVa-Wise
The Wetlands Project began as an effort to remediate the impacts of acid mine drainage (AMD) on the UVa-Wise campus resulting from intensive industrial mining on campus throughout the 1900s. In 2000, the Lonesome Pine Soil and Water Conservation District (LPSWCD) and the Guest River Group (GRG) set forth to identify and reduce the impacts of AMD in the Guest River Watershed. An unnamed, AMD-affected stream on the UVa-Wise campus was chosen as a unique environment for an AMD reclamation project. While AMD significantly impacted the health of the campus stream (and, therefore, the Guest and Clinch Rivers downstream), ecological restoration was not the only objective, given the site’s educational potential.
From the beginning, all the individuals involved with the Wetlands Project saw an opportunity to transform an environmental liability into a learning environment by providing educational opportunities for the students and citizens of southwest Virginia. In 2001, the College officially joined a unique partnership of local citizens, landscape architects, environmental organizations and coalitions, and federal agencies to expand traditional views of land reclamation and AMD remediation practices.
A partner in The Wetlands Project, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) initiated a site study to evaluate the scientific feasibility of the project. A grant from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) initially funded the project, helping to pay for a site assessment. These funds were limited, however, and DMME encouraged the LPSWCD to apply for an Office of Surface Mining (OSM) Clean Streams Initiative Grant. These grants use a combination of private and government resources to facilitate and coordinate citizen groups, university researchers, the coal industry, corporations, the environmental community, and local, state, and federal government agencies in reclaiming streams polluted by AMD. The LPSWCD was awarded a substantial grant, with Black Diamond Resource Conservation and Development Council serving as fiscal managers.
During the same time period, Dr. Allan Comp was developing AMD&ART, a program that blended site history with reclamation science and innovative landscape design, along with the energy of community engagement. Hearing about the success of the first AMD&ART reclamation project in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, the LPSWCD contacted Dr. Comp for insight on how the UVa-Wise Wetlands Project could further incorporate the community into the development of the site.
Having secured the OSM Clean Streams Grant, the LPSWCD and GRG began developing a Wetlands Project stakeholders group. A series of public meetings were conducted with UVa-Wise faculty to determine the needs of the College and the Wise community. In addition to simply enhancing the ecological health of the site, the group suggested an interpretive trail that would lead citizens through the reclaimed wetland. Following these meetings, the group decided that a concept drawing was needed to help visually understand what could be built. Rhode Island School of Design student Corey Kissel began working with LPSWCD, Maxim Engineering, and UVa-Wise faculty to develop the first concept drawing of the site. With the initial concept design in hand, the Powell River Project completed an inclusive watershed restoration design and implemented several small engineering measures that would support the construction of a passive AMD remediation system.
In the spring of 2003, the LPSWCD hired landscape architect Kathy Poole to integrate the ideas developed in the concept plan with detailed design aspects that invited people into the reclaimed landscape. As the construction date was approaching, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) joined the partnership, donating construction services through their Wetlands Mitigation program. With VDOT support and funding from VDCR, OSM, and a Virginia Department of Forestry Grant, construction began in the summer of 2004 and was completed in November of that same year. Ongoing site improvement, general maintenance, and the construction of an educational outreach program have occurred in the following decade, with the Wetlands now a vibrant feature within the larger campus landscape.