The driving range at the Bucknell Golf Club has a new and unique water hazard — one that serves as a natural asset, outdoor classroom and flood protection measure, all in one.
Late this summer, Bucknell completed the first stage of a stream restoration project near the headwaters of Miller Run, adjacent to the University driving range. Spearheaded by the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment and funded by a 2011 state grant, the project daylights a quarter-mile of the stream that had been funneled through an underground channel beneath the range, helping to reduce downstream flooding and creating a rich ecosystem for flora and fauna.
The again-exposed stream was widened significantly, allowing water to meander through braided streams and into catch basins during heavy rain, and planted with native plant species that absorb water and filter out fertilizer from the driving range.
"We used a Central Pennsylvania-native seed mix," said Dina El-Mogazi, director of the Sustainable Design Program at the Center for Sustainability & the Environment. "Not only are these species native to Pennsylvania but they're even more particularly indigenous to this area, and there are dozens of species in the mixture. By starting out with so many species we have a good chance of establishing a lot of biodiversity."
"It's much more wildlife-friendly," added Ben Hayes, director of the environmental center's Watershed Sciences and Engineering Program. "Already we've seen lots of deer, turtles, salamanders, butterflies and birds."
From a richly vegetated headwaters area, which will eventually support trees, the stream's channel narrows to a few meters wide as it passes in front of the range's tee box, allowing golfers to use the range without obstruction. The contractors excavated enough material in creating the new environment to build an additional tee-box for the driving range.
The stream restoration was funded in part by a $178,000 Growing Greener grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Bucknell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided tens of thousands more in in-kind contributions, including equipment and design.
The state awarded the grant in hopes the project would reduce sediment and nutrient loads in the stream, which flows through campus into Limestone Run, then into the Susquehanna River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
"Suspended sediment remains the number one pollutant in the Susquehanna," Hayes said. "We have flooding and erosion in Miller Run, so anything that reduces flooding also reduces the amount of sediment that washes into the river."
The project already seems to be accomplishing that goal admirably. A stream gauge installed at the Miller Run headwaters last year has already shown a 30-percent reduction in flooding, Hayes said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service performed the actual excavation work on the project, while students in a stream restoration course taught by Hayes and Professors Craig Kochel, geology, and Matt McTammany, biology, as well as in other courses taught by Professors Rob Jacobs, geology, and Rich Crago, Jessica Newlin, and Matthew Higgins, civil & environmental engineering, helped to design the channel and off-channel wetlands.
"The whole class was given this problem," Hayes said of his stream restoration course. "There was a lot of scratching of heads, almost frustration, but when they began to be treated as consultants they ate it up."
The restored stream also provides grounds for further research — Hayes said civil engineering courses have already conducted field labs at the stream, and a stream gauge and weather station installed last year have already provided baseline data that will assist any assessment of the stream's health going forward.
"To us, places like this are already classrooms," Hayes said. "They just aren't indoors."