Protection and Management Plan for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center
The following principles serve as general tenets on which to base management decisions regarding the wetland and its environs. They represent a merging of knowledge about the site, its watershed context, and the wider body of literature on wetlands, landscape ecology, land use planning and environmental education. For each of the categories below a summary of current conditions is given, and a list of principles is presented to guide decisions on management, development and programming of the Center.
Natural History Principles
That Millbrook Marsh relies on the overall health and integrity of the watershed cannot be understated. Primarily at stake is the quantity and quality of water that originates up-gradient of the site. "Flashy" storm flows from urban development higher in the watershed have already heavily impacted the upper reaches of Thompson Run in the form of severe erosion of the stream’s substrate, and to much of Slab Cabin Run. Processes of downcutting accelerate as hydraulic energy from storm events become increasingly concentrated in unnaturally deep and wide channels, rather than dissipating onto the natural floodplain. There is an anecdotal indication that the Thompson Run reach of Millbrook Marsh is downcutting (B. Niebel, pers. comm. 1997). If so, the implications for adjacent wetlands are serious—less-frequent but more severe flooding and extended periods of water table drawdown can result in the "perching" and drying out of streamside wetlands and the invasion of upland woody and herbaceous vegetation.
There are also indications that the water budget on site is being affected by urbanization. High runoff-low infiltration conditions in the developed portions of the watershed seem to be translating to a greater reliance on point sources—local springs and discharges from the water treatment plant to augment low-flow. The tendency toward unnaturally extreme low-flows was apparent along Slab Cabin Run during the dry weather period in the early fall of 1997; reaches of Walnut Springs Run dried up entirely at several points through the summer and fall of 1997.
Extreme low flow conditions can impact aquatic invertebrates and displace the local trout population to reaches further downstream. Birds that forage on aquatic organisms may seek out other sites. Riparian-based small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians may likewise seek out more prosperous habitats, often to their peril where road crossings are encountered.
Also at stake is the physical and functional connectedness of Millbrook Marsh to its larger landscape context. In pre-settlement times, riparian and contiguous upland vegetation would have stretched along the entire Spring Creek corridor. Since the early-1800s land clearing activities and, later, urban development have served to isolate Millbrook Marsh from adjacent riparian ecosystems and upland habitats. Important ecological processes (e.g., nutrient and energy cycling, the free movement of species and genetic material) have been severed or compromised, probably resulting in lowered biodiversity and biotic complexity.
Finally, direct ecological stresses have been observed on-site. Disrupted groundwater flow and levels, disturbed soils, vegetation clearance and altered sun/shade patterns, heightened nutrient and silt inputs, and dumping and salt loading have resulted in habitat changes with loss of associated species, as well as the concurrent invasion of aggressive, non-indigenous plant species. The overall result has been an altered community composition, particularly along the wetland-upland interface.
While acknowledging the site’s regionally significant natural resource values and its strategic location, site investigations have characterized a partially dysfunctional ecosystem. As Millbrook Marsh’s links to larger terrestrial and hydrologic systems become more tenuous, its resilience fades. Already, it appears there must be an increasing reliance on human inputs to maintain its basic ecological integrity.
The following principles are intended as a basis for managing for ecological integrity in a way that encourages self sustaining natural processes and minimizes reliance on human inputs. While they are prescriptive and tailored to the key issues affecting Millbrook Marsh and its context, they draw on some of the more compelling concepts in watershed management, aquatic and wetland ecology, and landscape ecology. It is this interdisciplinary perspective that offers the greatest hope for the long-term viability of Millbrook Marsh.
• Promote watershed stewardship and ecosystem planning in general and, more particularly, within the Slab Cabin Run and Thompson Run-Walnut Springs Run subwatersheds. Accelerate comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional watershed management and land use policies that result in enhanced aquifer recharge up-gradient, stabilized base flows, improved water quality, restored stream morphologies, and stronger vegetative links between riparian and terrestrial habitats and surrounding parks and preserves.
• Ensure a sustainable hydrologic regime on-site to the greatest extent possible, including protection of spring discharge points, promotion of surface water infiltration, and protection and enhancement of natural stream morphology (e.g., pools and riffles, meanders, sandbars, substrate, bank overhangs).
• Remedy habitat patch isolation and strengthen riparian continuity through streamside revegetation initiatives upstream, downstream and within the marsh.
• Engage in ecological restoration where plant-soil communities have been negatively disturbed and where invasive species have displaced indigenous species or have altered ecosystem functions.
• Consider habitat creation projects that provide shelter and nesting for scarce or extirpated species, while enhancing opportunities for viewing and study of wildlife. Kingfisher nests, bat houses, osprey roosts, hibernacula, in-stream fish shelters are just some of the many installations possible on site.
• Revegetate nearby upland areas wherever possible, and accommodate safe wildlife passage between existing and restored habitats.
• Remove or remediate physical and spatial barriers (e.g. undersized culverts, fences, other impediments) to both aquatic and terrestrial species movement up- and down-stream and laterally to upland habitats.
• Affirm an adaptive management approach that realistically confronts past and current ecological stresses, is responsive to unforeseen variables, learns from its failures and successes and, throughout, strives to realize the vision of a thriving ecosystem.
Cultural Heritage Principles
Millbrook Marsh and the Bathgate community still contain some fine scenic resources and recreational opportunities that have been appreciated for generations. Bathgate’ s several original farmsteads, a number of century homes, a history of small-scale agricultural processing, and important freshwater springs serve as touchstones to the past and point to a heritage of human activities that was both productive and, for its day, stewardly. The nearby iron master’s mansion and furnace offer opportunities for alliances, both programmatic and physical.
• Acquire a more in-depth understanding of the site’s heritage and its relationship with the surrounding Bathgate community.
• Restore and adaptively re-use those structures that are of historical merit or that may enhance educational objectives. The barn is a fine example of a Pennsylvania forebay bank barn, and should be respected as such. The adjacent barnyard, likewise, still retains its original character. Open and utilitarian, it is the functional heart of the farmstead (Glass 1986; Ensminger 1992), and stands ready to accommodate outdoor group activities as generously as it did farming activities in times past.
• Provide for strong, safe pedestrian linkages between on-site and nearby cultural resources, such as the Centre Furnace Mansion, Bathgate Spring, Spring Creek Park, Slab Cabin Park, Walnut Spring Park, and contiguous bike paths.
• Be sensitive to held and hedgerow patterns that have long contributed to the area’s rural character; use fence lines to order space and activities and to define areas of ecological restoration on the rear fields of Farm 12. Retain the spatial integrity of pastures along the front "facade" of the farmstead bordering Puddintown Road, with minor adaptations to reflect current standards of sustainable land management.
• Re-create historical structures and farmstead elements that may serve both cultural heritage and educational goals. For example, modified sun shelters could emulate the two livestock shelters that were evident through the 1950s, while accommodating small-group outdoor activities. Similarly, the existing double-fencerow tractor path from Orchard Road provides a unique, rhythmic entry experience; it should be renovated and minored with a second tractor path linking the proposed parking lot with the barnyard area.
Education and Interpretation Principles
Education and interpretation programs will provide the primary means of stimulating a bond between visitors to the Center and its natural and cultural systems. Effective programs will not only inform, but also inspire, celebrate, and challenge. Moreover, if they are holistic, they will make connections and find meaning. Over time these activities will help build a personal and collective empathy for Millbrook Marsh and its environs, contributing to a growing land ethic throughout the region.
A myriad of stories and insights are available through a careful reading of the site and its historical legacy. Local culture as expressed through a rich tradition of ritual, language, lore and arts can be accessed both on-site and through nearby points of interest. Farmstead activities and earlier eras of resource exploitation also offer rich interpretive opportunities, many of which are earth bound —seasonally tied to soil, water and plants. When viewed in this light, Millbrook Marsh provides an ideal setting to explore the relationships between rural and urban cultures and nature.
The historic forebay bank barn, other outbuildings and minor reconstructions (e.g., livestock sun shelters) can serve dual roles; as artifact, they reveal the past; as structure, they accommodate human use. Landscape patterns of field and hedgerows are reminders of a bygone era of bounty and toil, and can likewise adapt to a new era of outdoor discovery and meaning. The nearby Centre Furnace Mansion is a strategic ally. These local features are key to explaining the evolution of the farm and surrounding rural landscape. They may also serve to anchor a greenway/gateway, in which Millbrook Marsh and the mansion serve as focal points in an extended open space system.
• Invest in programs that bring together intellectual, experiential and sensory interactions— wetlands are complex and demand multiple ways of knowing. Programs should seek a balance between information and experience in stimulating knowledge, respect and wonder. This is consistent with Leopold’s nature ethic, where contact with the "stuff’ of nature was essential to the perception of how things came to be the way they are and how they maintain their existence (Leopold 1949, p. 173).
• Work with the processes and characteristics peculiar to wetlands. As systems they are complex, dynamic, and not easily made legible to the casual visitor. As landscapes they are immersive and intricate, requiring a quiet patience that distinguishes this from other "attractions To facilitate understanding, therefore, requires a variety of approaches. Structures (boardwalks, paths, interpretive nodes) should be sited and designed so as to permit engagement with the spaces and nuances of the site while minimizing their inherent intrusiveness
• Reproduce some of the features and processes inherent in the larger wetland through activities and installations on the Farm 12 complex. For example, a created pond and fringing wetland can provide a more accessible, intensified version of similar but more dispersed elements found in the adjacent natural setting. Likewise, new upland communities —native meadows, successional communities, forested nodes and corridors—contribute to overall ecological restoration of the area and allow for a closer interaction between nature and people. Insights and skills gained through this "packaged" format can then be more readily transferred to the more challenging wetland setting. These installations also serve to deflect some of the inevitable impacts that result from concentrating people in one area. Be consistent in acknowledging that these installations are representations of more naturalistic features found in the marsh.
• Integrate education and interpretation within the full scope of Center activities. Resource management thrusts, for example, should actively include visitors whenever possible. Then, tree plantings become not just an educational opportunity, but an act of participatory stewardship and a shared aesthetic and recreational experience. If repeated on a periodic basis, such programs can actually contribute back to the site, enhancing ecological function and, perhaps, a sense of personal and collective renewal.
• Use narrative, drama, and other creative arts to stimulate a deeper connection to the nature and culture of Millbrook Marsh. Sciences, arts and humanities all have a role to play in engendering learning and empathy with the site and its inhabitants.
• Explore the relationships between the various scales of ecological systems at hand in and around Millbrook Marsh. One primary emphasis should be the nested characteristic of the marsh, and its indivisibility from larger watershed and regional contexts.
• Acknowledge that program activities can be as environmentally intrusive as structures and vehicles. All programs should be carefully designed, piloted and monitored for their compatibility with natural values on site.
Millbrook Marsh has provided accessible, quality recreational experiences to the people of Centre Region for decades. Angling, casual hiking, nature appreciation and other passive uses have coexisted with few serious conflicts. Clearly, however, levels of use have traditionally been fairly low. Trails are only lightly traced along stream margins, and there is almost no sign of erosion or other forms of site degradation common to other more intensely used natural areas. The site’s tradition of stream-related activities and its ability to absorb reasonable levels of passive use suggest several principles for sustainable recreation in the future.
• Be considerate of traditional uses, such as angling and hiking, as important aspects of the site’s heritage. To the extent that they are consistent with other goals noted above, they should be integrated as valid activities.
• Inform recreational users of the site’s sensitivities, and include them in ecosystems management efforts. Make evident the site’s limited capacity to sustain human use; susceptible soils, vegetation and animal habitat require that all activities on site be managed more actively than in the past. An organized and well-programmed network of paths and boardwalks should help pattern recreational activities that are sympathetic with the site’s natural and cultural values.
• Invite recreationists to view the marsh as an ecosystem rather than a commodity. Encourage recreational users to partake in interpretation and monitoring programs. This distinct constituency may prove invaluable in protecting wetland values and furthering the goals of the Center.
On to Management Zones