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Urban Ecosystems, 1998, 2, 189–204

c 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers

Managing urban wetlands for multiple use: research,

restoration, and recreation
University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, 1207 Seminole Highway, Madison, WI 53711-3726, USA

Conservation of urban wetland habitat is challenging, because multiple uses must coexist. We use examples from
California and Wisconsin to describe potential synergies among recreation, restoration and research activities (the
3 R’s). Allowing passive recreation is often essential to garner public support for habitat protection, restoration,
and research. In turn, restoration activities can improve the appearance of degraded sites, and designing the work as a
research experiment can serve the scientific community. Two projects at Tijuana Estuary support the 3 R’s. (1) Oneonta
Tidal Linkage is a 0.7-ha tidal channel and salt marsh that was excavated from disturbed upland to bring wetland habitat
closer to the Visitor Center (thereby reducing visitor intrusion into natural marsh habitat, where endangered species
would be disturbed). It supports an ambitious field experiment that is testing the importance of species diversity in
restoration; it also includes a bridge that serves the interpretive program, and it adds 0.7 ha of wetland habitat that helps
restore regional biodiversity. (2) A larger excavation (8 ha) of former tidal wetland will soon add wetland habitat,
while testing the importance of tidal creek networks in ecosystem functioning and offering views and interpretive
opportunities. A third situation, at the 485-ha University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, concerns restored wet
prairies, which provide habitat for native species and serve many hikers. Urban stormwater flows into and degrades the
Henry Greene Prairie, allowing aggressive plants to invade. Research and restoration efforts are planned to sustain the
habitat and recreation functions. These three models suggest that recreation, restoration, and research are compatible
uses of urban wetland habitats.
Keywords: California; wetlands; recreation; research; restoration; Wisconsin

Few regions of North America are as urbanized as southern California, where over 16 million people live
along a ∼450-km coastal strip from Point Conception to the US–Mexico border (Davis et al., 1995). San
Diego houses over 1 million people. Immediately across the border, Tijuana and its suburbs add another
1 to 2 million residents. Human developments are concentrated at the coastline, because the flat terrain
of the river floodplains and estuarine wetlands are easier to urbanize than the nearby mountains. Intensive
coastal development has displaced much of the natural wetland area within the coastal strip, contributing
substantially to the overall decline in the state’s wetlands (91% loss over the past 200 years; Dahl, 1990).
The elimination of some—and reduction in size of all—coastal wetlands has isolated and fragmented
habitats that were already separated by mountains. As a result, the urbanized coast now has only remnants
of wetland, most of which are highly disturbed.
The 1012-ha Reserve at Tijuana Estuary (32◦ 340 N,117◦ 70 W, Fig. 1), with its 692 ha of channels, marshes,
and riparian habitat, is the largest wetland in the San Diego area (Macdonald, 1990). It once ranked third
(Fig. 2), behind San Diego Bay (dredged for shipping since the early 1900s, filled for urban development)

∗ To whom correspondence should be addressed at: Aldo Leopold Professor of Restoration Ecology, University of Wisconsin–
Madison Arboretum, 1207 Seminole Highway, Madison, WI 53711-3726; Telephone: 608 262-8629; Fax: 608 262 5209.
190 Zedler and Leach

Figure 1. Tijuana Estuary (Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve), showing completed (Oneonta Tidal
Linkage) and proposed (Model Marsh) restoration projects that serve recreation and research needs.
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 191

Figure 2. Wetland loss in the San Diego area. Once the smallest of the wetlands, Tijuana Estuary now has the largest
acreage under continual tidal influence.

and Mission Bay (dredged in the 1950s to create an aquatic park). Tijuana Estuary’s location has protected
it from dissection by major roadways, which cut through all the other coastal wetlands in San Diego County
(Fig. 1). San Diego Bay, which used to be ringed with mudflat and salt marsh habitats, now supports only
small remnants of natural wetland, constructed wetland, and scattered mudflat.
Most coastal wetlands of the US are valued for their production of detritus that contributes to the coastal
fisheries (Odum, 1971). This service is less important in southern California waters (due to offshore
upwelling of nutrients). Instead the primary conservation value of the remaining wetlands is habitat. These
wetlands support endangered plant and animal species, provide open space, and attract migratory birds to
rest enroute to wintering or nesting destinations along the Pacific flyway. In addition, they have status as
heritage systems—museum pieces from a former landscape.
Long-term research on both Tijuana Estuary and San Diego Bay wetlands (Zedler et al., 1992; Zedler,
1996) has identified many conservation problems, as well as requirements and opportunities for habitat
restoration. Recent attempts to solve problems have simultaneously taken advantage of opportunities to
restore habitat for public appreciation. Thus activities at Tijuana Estuary catalyzed our discussion of
multiple-use urban wetlands; it is a site where conserving habitat has always been the principal goal and
where research has been foremost among the 3 R’s: research, restoration, and recreation.
Although these three management goals are sometimes viewed as conflicting, two model projects at
Tijuana Estuary show that research is highly complementary with restoration and recreation, even gener-
ating synergism. We describe two additional sites that have multiple uses and objectives but emphasize
192 Zedler and Leach
Table 1. Problems of urban wetlands
Component Problem

Hydrology Altered hydroperiod due to dams, flood control channels, excess run-on
Decreased water quality due to contaminants, eutrophication
Habitat Loss
Pests Feral animals and increased predation on native animals
Invasions of aggressive plants and negative impacts on native vegetation
Infrastructure Maintenance dredging for shipping canals
Expansion of marinas
Filling for highway expansion
Replacement or installation of utilities (e.g., wastewater pipes, power lines)
Visitors Pressure for recreation (e.g., bird-watching, canoeing, bike trails)

different R’s: Restoration is foremost at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, and attracting
passive recreation is a major objective for a tidal marsh restoration site in New Haven, Connecticut. In all
cases, management for habitat is an underlying goal.

Special problems of urban wetlands

Urban wetlands have suffered many abuses (Table 1), including destruction of vegetation by off-road
vehicles and use as dumps; they are also highly susceptible to invasion by horticultural escapes, pets,
and feral animals. Before Tijuana Estuary was fenced, it was a popular place to dump yard prunings,
excess gravel, and asphalt. Even with fencing, contaminants (e.g., cement mixer washings, paint, oil from
vehicles) are still flushed into the estuary via street drains that flow directly into the salt marsh. The public
does not recognize some practices as harmful. For example, well-meaning citizens dispose of unwanted
aquarium fish (e.g., sailfin mollies, Poecilia latipinna) into local waters, allowing exotic fish to invade
downstream wetlands (Williams et al., 1998).
Because habitat structure and function depend on hydrology, urban wetlands are greatly affected by their
far-from-pristine watersheds. Upstream dams have altered the magnitude and timing of flows in unknown
ways. The earliest record of streamflow to Tijuana Estuary followed the construction of Rodriguez Dam,
which controls flows in 57% of the watershed. Thus there is no pre-dam record to compare before–after
flood timing, peak flows, or dry-season flows. Urban and agricultural runoffs are substantial, and this
augments streamflow, because the region imports 90% of its water supply. The volume of augmented
flows is unmonitored, and the impacts are unquantifiable. It is clear, however, that there are augmented
flows during the long dry season (April through October), when there is little or no rainfall and when
natural runoff would not contribute much. Irrigation runoff and wastewater spills release fresh water that
originates in distant watersheds, notably those of the Colorado River and the Sacramento River Delta. The
results of augmented flows in the coastal wetlands are artificially lowered soil and water salinities, which
can harm marine animals and facilitate invasions by non–salt marsh plants (Zedler and Beare, 1986; Beare
and Zedler, 1987; Kuhn and Zedler, 1997; Callaway and Zedler, 1998). Restoration of urban wetlands
requires that hydrology also be restored to a regime that favors native biota and discourages invasions by
nonnative species.
Urban wetlands receive contaminants from roads, gutters, storm drains, and occasional wastewater spills.
In southern California, the quality of inflowing water is of concern but has not been adequately assessed. A
unique feature for water entering southern California wetlands is the extreme pulsing of contaminant flows
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 193
in autumn, which follows the long dry season. During the 7- to 9-month nonrainy period, roadways and
street drains accumulate materials from vehicle exhaust, tires, brakes, and refuse. Most urban wetlands
lack broad upland buffers that help filter materials before water reaches the adjacent wetlands. Hence, the
first rainstorm of the wet season mobilizes many contaminants that then flow directly into wetlands. Water
quality sampling after such storms misses the most concentrated inflows.

Multiple uses of urban wetlands: the 3 R’s

Research, restoration, and recreation are compatible uses, as we show in three case studies. First, however,
we discuss why it is important to include all three R’s in urban wetland management.
Because urban wetlands face increasing pressures (Table 1), society cannot afford a hands-off approach to
management. Rather, wetland managers must clearly state the goals of management. Important functions
of urban wetlands include sustaining regional biodiversity, providing hydrologic services, and improving
water quality. To gain societal support to manage for those functions, wetlands managers need to garner
public appreciation by providing opportunities for passive recreation. They also need to restore habitats to
improve ecosystem functions and increase public appreciation. In the process, managers should encourage
research that explores tools for reducing recreation impacts and improving the effectiveness of restoration
efforts. How land managers balance these three R’s could determine the future of urban wetlands.

Passive recreation
Public support for habitat protection is a top priority for growing communities with continual pressure
to modify wetlands. Gaining public support may require that some portion of wetlands be accessible for
passive recreation (low-impact activities, such as bird-watching). In southern California, even the most
highly protected habitats, i.e., those set aside for endangered species, can be viewed by the public. National
Wildlife Refuge lands in both the Tijuana Estuary and San Diego Bay are expected to provide visitor access
and amenities, and local decision-makers look to these sites for ecotourism opportunities.
Birds are the primary attraction for the wetland-appreciating public in southern California. Visitors of
every age are attracted by the charismatic species, such as egrets, herons, and terns. More serious bird-
watchers keep track of migratory birds and compete to sight species that are rare to the region. Habitats
that lack open water for large fish-eating birds are less likely to garner public support. Salt marsh plants
alone do not draw many visitors, because the native halophytes lack showy flowers. For such habitats, an
educational effort, with brochures and interpretive signs, is needed to create public appreciation. Adding
to one’s life list of wetlands plants could become a competitive activity, as in bird-watching.
In San Diego, many citizens who have access to wetlands for passive recreation actively support habitat
protection by joining forces and collectively influencing decision-makers. Examples are (a) the Friends of
Famosa Slough, who convinced the City of San Diego to purchase the 8-ha wetland for over $3 million in
1990, (b) the Southwest Wetlands Interpretative Association, which grew out of a successful effort to have
the northern arm of Tijuana Estuary purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (several hundred acres
for $7.6 million in 1980), and (c) the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Foundation, which has led the fight against
encroachment of roads and public utilities into this coastal wetland. The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society,
the Endangered Habitats League, and other environmental coalitions have also contributed substantially to
habitat protection in the San Diego area. Such strong public support appears to result from opportunities
for personal appreciation of the wetland landscape and the ability of individuals to view its biota.
Public access comes at a cost, however, and appreciation may lead to greater demand than the resource
can tolerate. One plan that promotes ecotourism around San Diego Bay calls for the revitalization of
an abandoned railroad that dissects Sweetwater Marsh, allowing a train to cross the marshes. While this
sounds relatively benign, improving the tracks would substantially damage the adjacent salt marsh. Access
194 Zedler and Leach
for heavy equipment and service vehicles would require a 75-m-wide swath, which is substantial for a
wetland that is not much wider. Frequent use by trains would interrupt birds’ feeding activities and threaten
wildlife crossing the tracks.
Providing amenities for visitors is part of the cost of gaining public appreciation. A trail and interpretive
signs have been installed along the edge of Famosa Slough (located at West Point Loma Blvd. and Famosa
Blvd., San Diego), and a Visitor Center has been built at the edge of Tijuana Estuary. A dirt road across
Sweetwater Marsh was widened and paved to improve access to a new visitor center on an upland island
(Gunpowder Point), built by the City of Chula Vista on National Wildlife Refuge land. To minimize
disturbance by the public, such amenities can be placed inland and expand the wetland habitat toward the
access point for appreciation by the public (e.g., see Oneonta Tidal Linkage, below).
Human intrusion and vandalism are continuing problems for urban wetlands, and carefully planned and
implemented wetland–upland buffers are a necessary feature for retaining habitat value. The adequacy of
various types of buffers needs further study, in order to provide better recommendations for buffer width,
allowable structures and activities within buffers, and the type and height of vegetation that is most effective
in reducing disturbances due to noise, lights, and movement. California’s Coastal Act requires a 30-m
buffer, but narrower strips are permitted if the developer can show that a wider one is not needed.

The public is more likely to enjoy a wetland that is attractive than one that appears “trashed.” The cumula-
tive impacts of multiple disturbances make urban wetlands ripe for restorative actions, such as removal of
fill, control of nonnative vegetation and feral animals, replanting of native plants, and returning hydrologic
regimes to more natural conditions. Of these, the last is probably the most important and the most difficult.
Where the timing, duration, and frequency of flow events (hydroperiods or inundation regimes) are per-
manently modified, the associated wetland habitats probably cannot be restored to their historical status.
Habitat goals for urban wetlands may thus need to be different from “turning back the clock”; hence, the
term “rehabilitation” (NRC, 1992) may be more appropriate than “restoration.” However, for simplicity,
we include both activities under the latter term in this paper.
Restoration efforts in urban wetlands may encounter more problems than those in rural wetlands, owing
to a long history of disturbance. For example, excavation of fill to create tidal wetlands along San Diego
Bay encountered lead contamination and required removal and transport to a landfill licensed to receive
toxic material. The area had been used as an urban dump. As a result, the excavation unearthed old bottles
and attracted collectors. The substrate had a substantial portion of broken glass and was thus an “attractive
nuisance” during the construction period. In the future, health and safety concerns should be addressed
during planning.
Permitting poses a series of difficulties for urban wetlands. Land ownership is likely to be complex, and
memoranda of understanding may be needed to state common objectives and individual responsibilities.
The Tijuana Estuary has two federal, one state, one county, and two city land owners, as well as a few
private inholdings. Agreement among agencies is accomplished through a management authority that meets
Construction is also more of a problem in urban areas. At Tijuana Estuary, the dredging operation created
enough noise to alienate neighbors. The sediment was fluidized and pumped to the river mouth, where
sediments were expected to help build up an eroding ocean shoreline. Although the sediment could have
been trucked from the site, this alternative was rejected in part because of the volume (>15,000 cubic
meters) of dredge spoil. Hundreds of truck trips would have damaged city streets in addition to creating
a noise problem. The delicate relationship between the state and federal property managers and the local
city (which gains little from having a reserve in place of a tax-generating marina) was at stake.
Once constructed, rehabilitated urban wetlands will continue to have a greater share of management
problems than rural counterparts. The quality of inflowing water may be low, and the public may need to
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 195
Table 2. Impacts of increased public access

Impact Activity responsible

Disturbance to wildlife Movements (of people and/or pets) startle some animals
Lighting may deter use by nocturnal species
Noise can startle animals and interfere with communication
Vehicles cause roadkills
People release unwanted animals
People take plants or plant parts
Habitat loss Space allocated to visitor amenities, such as visitor center or
kiosk, parking, trails, interpretive billboards, openings to
allow views where buffers from visitors are preferable
Overuse by visitors Trampling, vandalism, trash accumulation

Table 3. Constraints on restoring urban wetlands

Hydrology Modifications may set limits on restoration potential

Permitting The permit process may involve multiple landowners
Implementation Sediment removal operations can be disruptive to local residents
Pollution Nutrients, contaminants, and pathogens need to be minimized
Historical contamination may have left toxic sediments
Visitation Recreational use will need to be managed (Table 2)

be directed toward less sensitive habitats. There are ways to turn water quality problems into amenities,
however. One poorly designed street drain at Tijuana Estuary threatened to undercut the street. The engi-
neer’s design solution was to pipe flows further into the marsh. However, noting that the outfall would end
in an endangered species habitat, we proposed an alternative, namely a shallow drainage ditch that would
direct flows across the disturbed upland where wetland plants could be planted and water quality improved.
The engineer added a bank stabilization measure (concrete slope) to prevent erosion during heavy rainfall
events. The compromise plan was adopted, the changes made, and student volunteers enlisted to assist
with the planting of wetland trees and shrubs. This project has been in place for several years, and the
downstream riparian plantings are now a favorite bird-watching amenity. The riparian habitat covers only a
few square meters, but it provides an attractive urban–habitat interface. Thus urban wetlands can combine
restoration and recreation.

Research opportunities
Urban wetlands provide some amenities for research that are rare in rural wetlands: e.g., accessibility and
infrastructure. Electrical, water, and sewer services make possible various research projects. The ability to
use power tools on site, the potential to install irrigation, and drains to receive outflows from experiments
can all increase the range of possible field research projects.
Research that can be done in urban wetlands is subject to several constraints, however, such as small
size, vandalism, and public opinion (Table 4). Perhaps the most difficult to overcome is the inability to
instrument research sites openly. Today’s technology allows automatic sampling of various attributes of
the air and of the soil and/or water (e.g., temperature, salinity); instruments can be deployed and left
in place for weeks while data are logged electronically. The instruments are very expensive (e.g., water
sampling units cost several thousand dollars), and if they are visible to the public they are subject to theft
and vandalism (e.g., children used a costly rain guage for target practice at Tijuana Estuary). Even plot
196 Zedler and Leach
Table 4. Constraints on research in urban wetlands
Space Small size of available experimental area
Experiments may subdivide habitat, changing habitat appearance
and public acceptability
Destructive sampling may not be acceptable
Access The unauthorized public may use trails leading to research sites
Vandalism Equipment cannot be left on site
Plot markers must be inconspicuous, yet locatable, and replaceable
Public opinion Experimental setups may need to be neat or attractive
Experiments that affect animals may raise concerns of activists

markers can tempt people to remove stakes or trample a research site. A serious problem developed at
a remote field facility of the Pacific Estuarine Research Laboratory within the Tijuana River National
Estuarine Research Reserve, where two trailers were broken into seven times in two years. The site had
to be decommissioned. Such problems may decline if human population density is high and/or affluent,
because security would increase. Ideal urban wetland research projects would avoid or compensate for
shortcomings as well as help agencies improve their management of the wetland resources.

Model projects emphasizing research at Tijuana Estuary

Two projects at Tijuana Estuary might be considered model projects for managing wetlands to support
research. The first was completed in April 1997; the second has just been funded. Both were designed
with substantial input from scientists of the Pacific Estuarine Research Laboratory (Entrix et al., 1991).

Oneonta tidal linkage

In early 1997, a 0.7-ha tidal wetland was excavated from disturbed upland near the Tijuana Estuary Visitor
Center. The project grew out of plans to create a new trail for the National Estuarine Research Reserve by
putting a boardwalk into the salt marsh. The area in question supports two endangered birds, and rather
than dissect the nesting habitat, managers agreed to bring the marsh to the people by creating a channel
in front of the visitor center. Increased area of tidal marsh would be created, simultaneously improving
tidal flushing in the tidal ponds and perhaps in the entire northern arm of the estuary (Entrix et al., 1991).
While the new channel (Oneonta Tidal Linkage) serves restoration needs, the new bridge allows the public
a view platform (fostering, yet controlling, recreation).
Additional plans facilitate research. A field experiment on the new marsh plain tests the importance of
species diversity to ecosystem functioning; this restoration–research opportunity not only attracted funding
from the National Science Foundation but also provided vegetation for the newly excavated wetland and
helped the Reserve fulfill its research-facilitation mandate. Now that the Tidal Linkage is in place, other
benefits have been recognized. The new bridge offers visitors an attractive view of the wetland and provides
a stage for nature interpretation. At the same time, the channel blocks some unofficial trails into the natural
marsh, funnels visitors to the bridge, and reduces human intrusion. These multiple benefits are remarkable
for a 0.7-ha site. Clearly, the goal of supporting recreation, restoration, and research has been fulfilled.

Model marsh
An 8-ha excavation has been designed as the next restoration module for Tijuana Estuary (Fig. 4). Like
Oneonta Tidal Linkage, it has multiple purposes: (1) to increase wildlife (especially bird) habitat at Tijuana
Estuary by removing sediments that have converted wetland topography to upland (i.e., above the level
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 197

Figure 3. Fragmented wetlands in urban San Diego at the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The ∼128-ha
refuge is surrounded by urban land use and proposed urban use, including a recent proposal to locate a new baseball
stadium adjacent to the wetlands.

of maximum tides); (2) to improve tidal flushing in the southern channels of the estuary by increasing
the tidal prism upstream; (3) to excavate a large wetland that can serve as a model for future restoration
modules; and (4) to support research efforts that will find ways to accelerate ecosystem development.
The Model Marsh is unique in that its design focuses on a large-scale experimental test of the roles that
complex creek networks play in tidal ecosystem functioning. The site will have three subareas with and
198 Zedler and Leach

Figure 4. Oneonta Tidal Linkage, a 0.7-ha multiple-use wetland at Tijuana Estuary, which is a restoration site (new
wetland habitat excavated from disturbed upland) that serves both recreation (view is from the bridge, which is part
of a public trail near the Visitor Center) and research (a 4-year field experiment, funded by the National Science
Foundation, is underway on the left side of the channel).

three subareas without tidal creek networks (Fig. 4), basing the design on natural marshes, which have
high drainage density (i.e., length of creeks per area of marsh, calculated as ft/ft2 ), i.e., 0.007–0.012 at
Sweetwater Marsh (Coats et al., 1995) and 0.007 at Tijuana Estuary (Desmond, 1996). Small creeks are
known to be important habitats for juvenile California killifish (Desmond, 1996), and the marsh–creek
edge is known to support the endangered clapper rail by providing its preferred forage (crabs) and the best
cordgrass nesting habitat (Zedler, 1996). The full benefits of creating complex tidal creek networks have
not been explored; hence, this first large restoration module will explore the need to include complex creek
networks in all further modules.
All previous wetland restoration projects have been more homogeneous topographically. For example,
four large basins were excavated at Anaheim Bay from disturbed upland (mitigation for filling nearshore
fish habitat) and linked to the nearby natural salt marsh by culverts. An older excavation at San Dieguito
Lagoon (sediment removal to create fish habitat) occurred within historic wetlands, and there is a marsh–
aquatic habitat margin. In both cases, the straight edges between basin and marsh minimize interaction
habitats. In San Diego Bay, channels were excavated around eight marsh islands in a project that had
greater length of marsh–aquatic edge. However, the edges were relatively smooth, and small tidal creeks
have not formed on their own.
The Model Marsh is entirely designed as a manipulative experiment with replicated treatments that are
unprecedented in restoration sites. Other large-scale wetland research sites lack replication; e.g., an Ohio
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 199
State University wetland has two subareas (one planted, one not; Mitsch and Wilson, 1996) and a large
restoration site on the Des Plaines River of Illinois has several wetlands that treat inflowing water (each is
unique in depth and area; Hey et al., 1994). Additional field experiments are planned at the Model Marsh
to test the ability of sparse vs. dense plantings to vegetate the site and to test the value of adding kelp
by-products to the substrate to accelerate plant growth. Because the entire Model Marsh will be tidally
inundated, the increased channel flows are expected to export accumulated fine sediments and eventually
improve water clarity and fish habitat. The 8-ha site is large enough to attract native species and thus serve
both research and habitat goals.
The Model Marsh is the first large module of a 200-ha restoration program, which may take place over a
period of >20 years. An adaptive management approach will drive the restoration and research program.
The experiments will indicate best management practices for future modules, perhaps indicating the need
for including dense tidal creek networks to maximize fish and clapper rail use, perhaps demonstrating that
incorporating decomposed kelp into the mineral substrate and planting at lower densities is cost effective.

A model emphasizing restoration: the University of Wisconsin Arboretum

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum (Fig. 5) is an urban reserve of ∼485 ha that serves as a
teaching and research facility in a developing region with approximately 370,000 residents. Like Tijuana
Estuary, the Arboretum attempts to balance research, restoration, and recreation. Foremost, however, is the
goal of restoring prairie, savanna, conifer forest, and maple–basswood forest habitats, which supplement
the remnants of natural fens, marshes, oak woodlands, and the 130-ha Lake Wingra. The restored habitats
are used for restoration research (Jordan et al., 1985; e.g., work at Greene Prairie has produced eight
scientific papers, three masters theses, and one doctoral dissertation). Public education is also a major
activity at the Arboretum.
The Arboretum’s Greene Prairie (Fig. 5), which occupies ∼20 ha of rolling glacial topography, exem-
plifies several problems of urban wetlands. The area has a range of microsites from wetlands to dry. The
lowest topography faces many of the challenges typical of an urban wetland:

1. Restoration. Historically, the Arboretum is the nation’s “type-specimen” restoration program, with
prairie restoration initiated in the early 1930s (Sperry, 1983). Greene Prairie was hand planted, mostly
between 1945 and 1952, by mycologist Henry Greene on a former corn field (Kline and Summer, 1992). The
tallgrass prairie is now of very high quality, with federally- and state-protected plant species. Maintaining
such habitats involves the use of fire, which might be viewed as a nuisance if the public were not educated
on the importance of burning. As part of a continuing program to maintain public support, volunteers are
allowed to participate in classes on fire as a restoration tool.

2. Recreation. Greene Prairie is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, including naturalists, hikers,
joggers, and cross-country skiers. With state government financial support expected to remain static, the
Arboretum increasingly relies on private contributions, with the accompanying temptation to “give the
public what they want.” Some neighbors expect a proposed recreation trail outside the Arboretum to be
linked to Greene Prairie; however, a new access point would require more resources to be spent on policing
the area, maintaining trails, and repairing vandalized property.
Recreation pressure potentially conflicts with restoration (compacted soil on the trails impedes drainage
and affects the vegetation; Kline, 1992) and may hinder research (increased vandalism risk). Visitor use
is hard to control because Greene Prairie is isolated from the Arboretum’s Visitor Center by a major
highway. Hence, the public needs continual education on how and why to control itself. The Arboretum
uses volunteer work parties that combine education with highly structured, but popular, “recreational”
activities, such as brush cutting. Future research may need to identify impacts of recreation on ecological
values to set thresholds for visitor use.
200 Zedler and Leach

Figure 5. University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum (A), a large urban wetland that includes nearly 500 ha of
restored and remnant biological communities, including >140 ha of wetlands, surrounded by a rapidly growing urban
area. Approximately 20% of Green Prairie (B) has been damaged (hatched area) by development-caused run-on.
Managing urban wetlands for multiple use 201
3. Uncontrolled surface-water run-on and exotic plant invasion. The Arboretum is “open” to influence
from the surrounding urban landscape, and uncontrolled run-on (inflowing water, containing sediments
and nutrients) causes several serious management problems to its wetlands. Residential and commercial
developments have greatly altered the hydrology of Dunne’s Marsh, which is a pond just outside the
Arboretum boundary (Fig. 5). Historically, Dunne’s Marsh was a shallow water marsh with no outlet.
Surrounding development increased the inflow to the marsh, and water now regularly spills over, joins
other run-off from developed areas, and crosses the Arboretum’s southern border into Greene Prairie
(Fig. 5). After normal rainfall, run-on spreads out across about a fifth of Greene Prairie.
Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) is an aggressive pest plant of wet and moist soils that replaces
native plants under certain conditions. Approximately one-fifth of Greene Prairie is densely infested (the
same as the run-on footprint). Efforts to control the reed canary grass with mowing, herbicide, and fire have
failed. Research on the process of invasion and the impacts of altered hydrology would assist managers,
even if an engineered solution is required to control the run-on of water and concomitant silt and nutrients.
Public attention has recently focused on Greene Prairie, because development is proposed for approxi-
mately 45 ha of remaining agricultural land immediately to the south. While only a portion of the proposed
development would contribute run-on to Greene Prairie, the impact would add to that of an ongoing, more
distant development that also drains into Greene Prairie.
Obviously, the Arboretum cannot solve the problems associated with restoration, research, and recre-
ation by working solely within its boundaries. Through a series of hearings on the proposed development
the public is being made aware of the “openness” of the system and the need for whole-watershed manage-
ment. Also, the Arboretum has developed good relationships with several of its adjoining neighborhood
associations. Members of these associations are involved in regular volunteer work parties in Arboretum
restoration projects.
In the future, neighborhood associations could become involved in “backyard” projects, such as using
native landscaping to decrease the outflow rate of storm sewers or collecting roof water in rain barrels.
Social scientists could team up with engineers to predict the benefits of involving neighbors in stopping
the net loss of rainwater from their roofs, driveways, and streets, and convincing businesses to retain water
from their roofs and parking lots. Ultimately, such a research team might discover the kind of societal
benefits that would accrue if property owners took seriously their ecological responsibilities.

A model project emphasizing public appreciation

Casagrande (1997a) and several contributors describe plans for the restoration of West River Memorial
Park, a large (∼300-ha) wetland in New Haven, Connecticut, with impaired tidal flushing and massive
invasion of native salt marsh by common reed (Phragmites australis). The authors consider the social,
economic, and biological aspects of improving tidal flow and reducing the area dominated by common
reed, with strong emphasis on the value to humans. As stated by Casagrande (1997b), “Wetland restoration
in urban areas is, in effect, restoration of human habitat. The process, goals, and evaluation of restoration
success should all include a human component.” Their book indicates many opportunities for research and
recreation that can be incorporated into the wetland restoration plan. The planning process has already
generated research efforts on the nonmarket value of restoring the wetland (Udziela and Bennett, 1997),
social impacts of restoration (Page, 1997), feasibility of restoring tidal hydrology (Barten and Kenny,
1997), changes in soils and sediments (Orson et al., 1997a), and potential for restoring vegetation (Orson
et al., 1997b) and native fauna (Cuomo and Zinn, 1997; Pupedis, 1962; Moore et al., 1997; West and
Skelly, 1997; Smith, 1997; and Lewis and Casagrande, 1997).
In deciding how best to coexist with their increasingly interested public, managers of urban wetlands
must consider two alternatives: Should the restoration goals be altered, from replacing what has been
lost in the region to managing the system to accommodate altered hydrology and increased human usage?
202 Zedler and Leach
Or should novel compromises be sought, such as restoring a portion of the reserve for intensive human
use, so that the rest might be better protected (e.g., Oneonta Tidal Linkage, above). Casagrande (1997b)
suggests six approaches to help ecological restoration efforts maximize benefits to society: involve the
public in planning; incorporate restoration plans into community-based initiatives (e.g., neighborhood
beautification and revitalization, job training, school improvements); include a facilitator in the process
(one who understands the perspectives of various stakeholders); include environmental education in the
restoration goals; create a small-scale demonstration project to show community members what a larger
project might accomplish; and include social variables (e.g., questionnaires, interviews) in evaluating the
progress and benefits of restoration.
The above case studies demonstrate that urban wetlands can serve the 3 R’s, research, restoration,
and recreation. Research guides the restoration work at Tijuana Estuary and enhances the recreational
experience; restoration is the focus at the Arboretum, creating opportunities for research in restoration
ecology and studies on the impacts of recreational use; and a need for recreation guides research on and
plans for restoring the New Haven salt marsh. Urban wetlands should and can support all three approaches
to mutual benefit. We recommend that urban wetlands be viewed as opportunities to undertake synergistic
problem solving that simultaneously benefits the scientific community, the landscape, and the public.

We thank Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen for inviting this contribution, Dr. Gabrielle Vivian-Smith and two
anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript, Tom McClintock for preparing the
Arboretum map, and Gary Bubenzer and his Biological Systems Engineering students for helpful dis-
cussions. The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve and Tijuana Slough National Wildlife
Refuge are acknowledged for their support of research and adaptive management. The Oneonta Tidal
Linkage experiment on the importance of diversity to ecosystem functioning is supported by the National
Science Foundation (DEB-9619875 to J. Zedler, J. Callaway and G. Sullivan).

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