Wetland developments at Carr Creek Lake benefit wildlife, educate youth

Published Dec. 18, 2009

The five vernal ponds that were constructed at Flaxpatch Branch off Route 1231 at Carr Creek Lake in July 2007, have evolved nicely. The ponds were constructed by Ranger Kevin Wright with the assistance of Tom Biebighauser, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wildlife biologist, funding for the project was provided by the Knott County USDA Soil and Water Conservation District.

Since then, the ponds are holding water and re-colonization has started as indicated by the data gathered by Co-op Ranger Thomas Jackson during his research project as a student at Alice Lloyd College. The following is a verified list of species that have colonized at the ponds: red spotted newt, wood frog, bull frog, spring peeper, American toad, Fowler’s toad, pickerel frog, southern leopard frog and mountain chorus frog. The ecology department at Alice Lloyd College has expressed an interest in using the vernal ponds for various research projects and studies and in April 2009, an ecology class conducted a short bat survey of the area. Unfortunately, the weather was bad and no bats were netted, but future bat surveys are scheduled. This is a partnership that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carr Creek Lake and Alice Lloyd College hope to continue for many years.

This fall, Jackson conducted short introductory tours of the area to some young, but very enthusiastic Head Start students from Knott County. Ranger Jackson explained the importance of the ponds for the local ecology and netted several species of amphibians and insects that have inhabited the ponds for the children to touch, examine and hold. He also showed them some aquatic plants that live in the ponds and how they and the amphibians depend on each other for their existence.

The philosophy at Carr Creek Lake is to get them started at an early age, get children interested in nature and how important it is to preserve and protect it. This is just one program here at Carr Creek Lake that directly supports the need for the nation’s youth to "get back to nature."

What are vernal ponds?

Vernal ponds are a type of seasonal or temporary wetland. They were once common, naturally occurring features on the landscape. Vernal ponds are known by many names and vary in definition. In some locations their name denotes the relationship to the vernal or spring equinox. In areas where the seasons are less pronounced, many refer to them as ephemeral, seasonal or temporary wetlands.

Wetlands that do not contain fish are uncommon, but they are so very important to frogs and salamander species because fish are a major predator. Approximately one-half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species rely on seasonal or temporary wetlands for development. The wood frog, spotted salamander and eastern spade foot toad larvae are just a few of the amphibians that can successfully mature and emerge from these fishless habitats.

Waterfowl such as the wood duck and mallard use vernal ponds extensively during migration and for consuming insects, crustaceans and seeds for energy during their long flights.

Reptiles such as the eastern box turtle and eastern garter snake use vernal ponds as feeding stations as they move from one area to another.

Mammals use vernal ponds, too. Bats are attracted to them as a water source and to the insects that fly over the water.

Vernal ponds and other seasonal wetlands provide a window of necessity for these species to function and fulfill their role in the ecosystem.