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Remember: Riparian Buffers 1: An introduction at Cedar Beach Parkway

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Riparian Buffers 1: An introduction at Cedar Beach Parkway

If you have never heard of a Riparian Buffer, you will soon. In defense of our watersheds and ecosystems there is no better defense than a Riparian Buffer. Here is a definition from the Wildlands Conservancy: "A riparian buffer is the forested area next to a body of water that serves as a protective strip against pollutants and erosion. The establishment of a riparian buffer is actually one of the most effective and important steps to restoring a stream and should be incorporated in stream restoration projects whenever possible. Many considerations should be taken into account when implementing a riparian buffer, but with some small amount of guidance, the average homeowner can improve the short-term and long-term health of a stream greatly and with less of a monetary investment than other stream restoration techniques. When designing a riparian buffer, consideration should be made to use native, site-appropriate species (fitting light, soil and moisture requirements). Also, the riparian buffer should be designed to include all levels of the forest canopy (this includes large trees, shrubs, herbaceous material and native grasses). Riparian buffers serve many functions for a stream such as reducing nutrient inputs, reducing stream bank erosion and the subsequent sedimentation, reducing thermal pollution, providing habitat to aquatic and terrestrial species, and providing a food source for aquatic macro-invertebrates. While serving all of these functions, riparian buffers can also be aesthetically pleasing, incorporating wildflowers and budding trees. Riparian buffers can provide many long-term ecological functions for a stream ecosystem while requiring minimal effort to implement. "

There are existing buffer zones at a few of our city parks. This post is about the one that is currently establishing itself at Cedar Beach Parkway.

The Cedar Creek at this location is increasing prone to flooding as the result of run off from upstream developments. This run off is filled with harmful pollutants and in turn destroys the organic life in the creek. The Riparian Buffer helps to keep these pollutants from entering the water as well as reestablishes the banks of the creek with thick root systems that prevent erosion.
From the Maryland Cooperative Extension. "Riparian Forest Buffer Design, Establishment, and Maintenance." University of Maryland, 1998:

"A riparian buffer is usually split into three different zones, each having its own specific purpose for filtering runoff and interacting with the adjacent aquatic system. Buffer design is a key element in the effectiveness of the buffer. It is generally recommended that native species be chosen to plant in these three zones, with the general width of the buffer being 50 feet (15 m) on each side of the stream.

Zone 1. This zone should function mainly to shade the water source and act as a bank stabilizer. The zone should include large native tree species that grow fast and can quickly act to perform these tasks. Although this is usually the smallest of the three zones and absorbs the fewest contaminants, most of the contaminants have been eliminated by Zone 2 and Zone 3.

Zone 2. Usually made up of native shrubs, this zone provides wonderful habitat for wildlife, including nesting areas for bird species. This zone also acts to slow and absorb contaminants that Zone 3 has missed. The zone is an important transition between grassland and forest.

Zone 3. This zone is important as the first line of defense against contaminants. It consists mostly of native grasses and serves primarily to slow water runoff and begin to absorb contaminants before they reach the other zones. Although these grass strips should be one of the widest zones, they are also the easiest to install."

I took these pictures by actually wading through Cedar Creek to see what a Riparian Buffer looks like from the inside. In the pictures you can see the three tiered approach as well as the great amount of wildlife habitat that has been created in this very small area of Cedar Beach Parkway.

This buffer zone exists along the length of Cedar Creek directly behind the Rose Gardens. It is a mere fraction of Cedar Creek in this location.

I will be journeying into the other Riparian zones in our city parks and documenting them here for you. Each one of our parks has a serious need for these zones to be established, if they haven’t yet. In future posts I will also pay close attention to the exact plant types present in our buffers. I hope this introduction has your curiosity piqued.

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