Historically, the area of the refuge that we know of as Seneca Pool was a forested wetland that usually flooded in the spring and then was dry for the rest of the year. After the refuge was established, Seneca Pool was created by encircling the area with berms to trap water to provide forested wetland habitat throughout the year. The idea back then was that if having water in the wetland in the spring was a good thing, then having water in the wetland the rest of the year must be a better thing. Following this line of thinking, the refuge managers at the time started flooding the area for longer periods of time into the summer. Unfortunately, the tree species at our latitude are not tolerant of flooding during the relatively short growing season. In fact, if a forested wetland area around here is constantly flooded for several years, no new trees can germinate and grow and the older mature trees will begin to die. This is what happens in every beaver swamp you’ve ever seen.
So, many years ago, the refuge staff decided to stop trying to flood the Seneca Pool into the summer and just let the water come and go “naturally”. The problem with that scenario was that since the berms were still in place, the only way that water could get from Oak Orchard Creek into Seneca Pool and back out was through a very small pipe. This resulted in a slower than desired flooding of the pool when the creek level was rising and an equally slow draining of the pool when the creek level was falling. The solution to this problem came several years ago when it was decided that the water control structure and entire north berm of the pool should be removed to allow a natural free flow of water between the pool and the creek. Now, we just needed to figure out how to pay for it. As usual, our partners stepped up to the plate. Ducks Unlimited (DU) offered to apply for a North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant. With money and in-kind services commitments from FINWR, Cargill Salt Mines, DU, and the refuge, we were able to successfully compete for a grant to fund the rest of the project.
Currently, we have just begun removing the north berm and water control structure. We hope to have this work completed by spring of 2016 when we will again call upon our FINWR volunteers to help us plant trees in the area that was once the north berm. This area totals about 10 acres and will be reforested to increase the size of the forested wetland area. After the completion of the project, Seneca Pool will once again be a functioning part of the natural Oak Orchard Creek floodplain.