About 25 officials from Superior and Douglas County learned about a number of green infrastructure projects on Barker’s Island Tuesday, Sept. 14 — some completed, others planned — that directly impact local waterways.
A combination of experts, from engineers and agency staff to property managers highlighted how different design techniques protect the man-made island, which was built out of dredge material. One spot that received a closer look was the $800,000 Barker's Island beach restoration project, which was completed in 2019.
“I think it’s important for the public to know that green infrastructure isn’t just something installed to benefit the environment, but also to improve spaces where people use the environment,” said Ashley Vande Voort, Douglas County land conservationist. “For instance, the beach at Barkers Island used to be an underutilized area. Now there is a nice beach, with limited waterfowl due to the aesthetically pleasing native landscape which deters waterfowl use.
"This native planting also provides important habitat as well as a strong root structure to stabilize the soil and filter rainwater runoff. In addition, rainwater runoff is redirected and filtered through practices such as wetland swales and pervious pavers which also provide the public with a parking spot by the beach. It is designed as a benefit for everyone," she said.
Other sites viewed included the engineered wetland and retrofitted wet pond by the Barker's Island Marina and the rain gardens outside the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve Estuarium. The group also stopped at the Barker's Island Inn parking lot and city boat launch, where a new project incorporating stormwater management best practices is slated to begin in 2022.
The design includes a gazebo; islands of green space to allow stormwater to soak in instead of run off; a rain garden; about 150 new trees; and a segment connecting the trails to provide a continuous loop, according to Megan Hogfeldt, water resources specialist with the city's Environmental Service Division. The infrastructure underneath will involve angling the gradient to send stormwater to areas where it can filter down slowly, as well.
"We're allowing for water to settle out and be filtered by the soil before it reaches our harbor," Hogfeldt said.
The impetus for the Barker's Island Marina parking lot project was the fact that it needed to be repaved.
The city applied for and was awarded a $500,000 Sustain Our Great Lakes grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the project. Once completed, the parking lot project is expected to capture up to two million gallons of stormwater per year, increase wildlife and pollinator habitat, provide cooling green spaces and increase the amount of pervious, or porous, surface.
"You know, it's best to just keep asking questions, 'How can we make this better? How can we make our community a better place?'" Hogfeldt said.
The array of green infrastructure projects on the island has been generating positive attention, she said., and staff are considering hosting more events like the Barker's Island tour in the future.
"I wish the tour was recorded and made available online for folks to learn who couldn't make it. It was a beautiful day and it was well attended all things considered," said Superior City Councilor Tylor Elm, who represents the 6th District. "I appreciate all the partners that made the green infrastructure projects possible. I would like to see this standard followed for future projects."
Visit the city's website for more information about the Sustain Our Great Lakes site improvement project Barker's Island.