This story was corrected on April 3, 2013. An explanation follows.
The wetland at Huntley Meadows Park is about to get a makeover.
Construction on a $3 million wetland restoration project at the park will begin this month, and continue through most of the year.
County and park leaders warned that the construction will be intense, and the park may not look good during the process.
“It’s going to be ugly for a little while,” said Harry Glasgow, a board member of Friends of Huntley Meadows Park. He urges park users to “have patience” and says the Friends group is confident the process will benefit the park in the end.
Kevin Munroe, manager of the park, said the Park Authority took a lot of care in developing a restoration plan with the smallest possible construction footprint.
They have been contemplating this project for 21 years and have conducted multiple surveys and consulted multiple environmental engineering firms in the process, Munroe said.
“We wanted to get this right,” he said.
Park staff have already done plant saves, taking some plants out of the construction area to preserve them elsewhere, he said, and will also be relocating some wildlife to ensure they are not harmed during construction.
Most of the park features will remain open during construction, including the visitor’s center and boardwalk through the marsh, but the hike-bike trail off of South Kings Highway will be closed for much of the construction period.
The wetland at Huntley Meadows is known as a hemi-marsh, created by beavers building a dam near a floodplain area. The Park Authority acquired the land in 1975.
More recently, development in the Route 1 corridor has caused about 6 tons of silt to wash into the wetland, reducing water depth by 8 to 10 inches, Munroe said.
The project is designed to restore the depth and install a system that will help the Park Authority manage water levels at Huntley Meadows for years to come.
This system will actually prevent the wetland from going through the natural cycles of a beaver marsh, Munroe said, because the county wants to preserve the biodiversity that exists in a hemi-marsh. Huntley Meadows is the largest non-tidal wetland in Northern Virginia, he said.
“If you have 100 big beaver marshes, you can let those cycles happen,” he said.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said the project is essential for ensuring that Huntley Meadows remains a place for local residents to experience and learn about nature.
“It’s really tough to have an oasis like this in the middle of an urbanizing area,” he said. “This will indeed sustain this park for [current residents] and their children.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the park in the headline.