While lesser known than nearby Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, Canoga Marsh also provides similar benefits -- food and shelter for migrating and resident birds, and spawning grounds for fish. Like other wetlands, it filters out pollutants and slows the movement of water.
In 2005, when a landowner placed 50 acres of previously farmed land into a Wetlands Reserve Program easement, he set in motion the restoration efforts. Through this federally supported program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service designed wetland enhancements adjacent to Cayuga Lake known as prairie potholes. Funding from the NY Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (NYCWRP) has been used to improve water quality and wildlife habitat between the road and the prairie potholes. NYCWRP funds support the planting a mix of warm and cool season grasses, constructing a vernal pool, and education for the community on the project and the value of wetlands.
The grasses, planted where rows of corn had previously stood, slow and filter the road runoff that once carried the accumulated drips of automotive fluids and eroded soil to the marsh. The grasses provides nesting habitat for grassland birds and, in addition, permanent cover compared to the crops of corn that left the soil bare and exposed to erosion for part of the year. This upland change creates a protective buffer for the marsh vegetation meaning that aquatic dwellers and over all water quality will be better off from not having to content with contaminants.
More birds appeared in response to the changes in vegetation. From the point of view of waterfowl, the hedgerow that once separated the fields from the marsh was a significant barrier. Since its removal, avian activity in the field has increased. Grassland birds are now being drawn to the lush meadow and, at a work party planned for June 2007, nesting boxes will be installed.
Late in the summer of 2006, the vernal pool was completed. A vernal pool is a type of wetland that fills with water during snowmelt, spring rains and after thunderstorms and then dries up during dry periods. The temporary pool is inhospitable to fish making it great breeding territory for frogs, toads and salamanders that might otherwise end up as fish food. The vernal pool is another line of defense capturing and purifying upland runoff before it flows to the lower marsh.
In the spring of 2007, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began constructing the prairie pothole complex adjacent to Cayuga Lake. Prairie potholes are so named because they are common in the prairie lands of the Midwest. These wetlands provide more varied habitat than the previously existing uniform stands of cattails. The pockets of water are sheltered from the large waves that build due to the fetch of this longest Finger Lake. Land south of the NYCWRP site is a state owned Wildlife Management Area. As a direct result of the work being done in the wetland easement, the Department of Environmental Conservation decided to construct prairie potholes in this adjacent portion of the marsh, expanding the benefits to fish, wildlife and people. This coordination reduced costs, by making use of the proximity of equipment and through coordinated design.
The prairie potholes was the original focus on the wetlands easement restoration. Thanks to funds from the NYCRP that allowed for the the improved conditions upland – the warm season grasses and vernal pool -- the success of these prairie potholes is more secure. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network is pleased that the newly formed New York Chapter chose Canoga Marsh as one of its first projects.
The Canoga Marsh restoration fits into a larger picture. Restoration of the marsh supports the Town of Fayette’s new comprehensive plan that hails protection of open space and natural resources. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan listed the Canoga Creek watershed, which feeds the marsh, as a priority for restoration and protection because of its proximity to Montezuma, the large percentage of that watershed still as wetlands, and the unique system of springs at its headwaters. Trout Unlimited and the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, as a direct result of the latter’s involvement in this NYCRP project, are exploring a partnership for long-term protection of Canoga Creek an the marsh.
This restoration project is having the further benefit of educating the public about the value of wetlands. Too often wetlands are still viewed as dank, shadowy places where unsavory critters thrive. Anyone who visits Canoga Marsh quickly learns otherwise. In 2006, teachers and school youth from nearby Seneca Fall middle and high school made field visits to collect information of habitat and water quality. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network newsletter and website have showcased this restoration project specifically and the value of wetlands more generally. In early June 2007, there will be a public tour and volunteer work party to install nest boxes and plant native plants such as buttonbush, dogwoods, shrub willows, sycamores and cattails. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network is currently in conversation with a newspaper about a guest column related to the restoration project.