Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomology
I love it when a plan comes together! Last year, several agencies/entities/organizations (including the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the Kentucky Horse Park, and my group, UK Extension) got together to improve a portion of the Cane Run watershed at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Cane Run creek runs from Lexington to Georgetown, Ky, and supplies some of Georgetown's drinking water. In recent years, the Cane Run has become impaired. Pollution (everything from erosion to heat to livestock waste) has become common in the Cane Run, which runs through a variety of rural, urban, and industrial areas in Fayette and Scott counties.
One of the ways to mitigate negative impacts to a watershed is to encourage riparian buffer zones. The riparian zone is the area next to a river or stream. In natural Kentucky landscapes, a riparian zone is typically thick with trees and other plants. In heavily managed urban and agricultural areas, though, riparian zones are often mowed right up to the banks. This can create several problems. The loss of shade heats the water, which can kill aquatic insects. Who cares about aquatic insects? You do, because fish can't live without aquatic insects to eat. Also, when streamside vegetation isn't allowed to grow, there isn't an extensive root system in the riparian zone. Without a root system, you get erosion, which destroys property and adds sediment to streams.
In Spring 2011, the Friends of Cane Run installed a riparian buffer at a section of the Cane Run Creek at the Kentucky Horse Park. The buffer consists of a variety of native plants, and it solves lots of problems at once. For one thing, the new plantings are a beautiful addition to the Horse Park landscape; the native flowers truly thrive in the Kentucky sunshine. More importantly, by installing native plants, invasive weeds (like honeysuckle and winter creeper) are discouraged. The new installation also works to truly "buffer" negative impacts: its roots soak up pollutants (like excess nitrogen) and its foliage helps to block the heat of the sun. This helps to protect the delicate aquatic insects (a.k.a. fish food!) that live in the water.
But the buffer doesn't just benefit the aquatic insects! It's also a terrific habitat for pollinators. Native plants like coneflowers and bee balm provide lots of food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Pictured below are some of the plants.
So now, the horse park is kind of like a pollinator park! Read more about the project (which was a part of last year's World Equestrain Games) here, and see a video of the project on YouTube.
You Can Create a Buffer Too!
Many of us live along streams and creeks, and installing a riparian buffer zone is a great way to help improve a local watershed. And there are several ways to do it. Gardeners might enjoy taking the native-plant approach, similar to what was accomplished at the horse park. But it doesn't have to be that much work. In fact, sometimes it doesn't have to be ANY WORK AT ALL! In some areas, you can create a riparian buffer simply by leaving the stream's edge unmowed, and by allowing native trees and shrubs to establish themselves in the riparian zone. You can read more about creating a riparian buffer here.
Read more about the Cane Run Watershed, and become a friend on Facebook!