by Laura Velarides
The Rose Valley wetlands, owned by the Rose Valley Swim Club, sprawl across approximately two acres, complete with a tumbling waterfall over a natural stone wall and lush greens as far as the eye can see. However, due to the introduction of non-native plants
called “invasives,” the wetlands are overgrown with unruly plants that the ecosystem is ill-Dr. John Smith, a biology professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, is working on restoring the wetlands of Rose Valley, which happen to be in his own backyard Wetland areas are crucial for controlling floodwaters during storms as well as purifying the water that’s flowing, which in this case is Ridley Creek. According to Dr. Roger Latham, an ecologist and conservation biologist of Rose Valley, “Wetlands provide a habitat for native plants and animals that are found in no other kinds of habitats; those plants and animals have declined as wetlands have disappeared as a byproduct of human activity.”
Smith first started working on the wetlands in 2008 while on the Rose Valley Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), of which he is still a member. At the time, the EAC was working to remove invasives from the Saul Wildlife Sanctuary and the Long Point Wildlife Sanctuary. Smith saw the same need in the Rose Valley wetlands. He began by simply pulling English ivy off tree trunks so the weight of the ivy would not pull the trees down. Each year since, he has accomplished the bulk of the wetlands work, along with help Smith’s goal is to gradually reintroduce native plants as invasives are reduced.
According to the Rose Valley EAC’s website, “Invasive species typically harm ecosystems by killing off or crowding out native species. They disrupt mutually beneficial relationships between native species.” While native plants are naturally controlled by local insects and other animals that eat them, non-native plants have no checks and balances, and therefore “Invasive species are one of the earth’s severest threats to biodiversity,” says Latham. The invasives that are most harmful to the Rose Valley wetlands include Norway and Japanese maple trees, multiflora rose, English ivy, and unidentifiable grasses.
At the center of multiple adjacent neighborhoods, right next to the swim club, the wetlands is a common path for neighbors and for children walking to school. “My kids would run around here for hours,” says Linda Doyle, Smith’s neighbor and a fellow member of the Rose Valley EAC. “They used to run down here to be the first ones to swim in the waterfall. They took some awfully cold swims.” Branching off the long-established main trails, some of the paths used by Doyle’s family and the rest of the community were created
Smith grew up on the “edge of wild country” outside Toronto. During World War II, he helped train the Canadian Air Force in aircraft recognition. After the war, he moved to the countryside, where, he says, “There were no airplanes, but there were other flying
things – birds.” Thus he began a study of birds. Smith can identify birds by just their songs. “Listen to that,” he says, cocking an ear
out his open window. “That’s a house wren. I named him Einstein because he’s not so Many birds in the area make their nests in the banks of the wetlands, such as water thrushes, but have been unable to nest due to invasives. As Smith begins to clear the area again this year, he urges residents to plant only native species. A list of invasive plants to avoid can be found on the Rose Valley EAC’s website.“Preserve what can be preserved,” Smith advises. “There are so few wetlands left. You want to grab every one of them and protect it.
”Laura Velarides is an intern at the local environmental group aFewSteps and a rising senior at the University of Delaware, studying Professional Writing and Journalism.