Case Study: Jewell Wetlands

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Jewell Wetland: A Case Study

The Jewell Wetlands is located in Aurora and has been touted as one of the best examples of a wetland environment in the Denver metro area. Design Concepts served as the prime consultant on the 50 acre project working with the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, civil engineers, the City of Aurora, and local citizens to enhance an area that needed to be developed to prevent flooding.


Background

The Jewell Wetlands was a project that saw much controversy before its realization. The residents living nearby did not want the area to be developed at all and were resolute in preserving the space as a natural area. However, a detention pond was needed for flood controlโ€”which had been affected by surrounding development and seasonal upstream floods. The existing creek that ran through the site was also extremely eroded and needed to be stabilized for reasons of safety and erosion control. While the public had initially been very vocal in their distaste for the development of the parcel of land that is today the Jewell Wetlands, their opinions were heard and in the end the area citizens were in favor of the project. In fact, many neighbors were motivated to volunteer their time to help build some of the park amenities.


Significance and Impact

Working closely with the civil engineer and Urban Drainage Flood Control District through the public process and design proved an effective way to meet the needs and desires of both the public and the City of Aurora. Efforts were made to keep the area as natural as possible and expand the locationโ€™s role as a wildlife sanctuary. Amenities included a loop trail around the organic shaped detention pond, through the established wetlands, and on the edges of the pristine, undisturbed, native grass โ€˜upland'. A small, informal parking lot on the edge of the property was provided for distant visitors such as school groups who might come to enjoy the boardwalk which provides a viewing deck large enough for a small outdoor education setting. The butterfly/hummingbird garden provided a sanctuary for both species that had inhabited the space before as well as new ones; and a wildlife blind was constructed so that birds, animals, and insects might be observed without being disturbed. In fact, the area is now recognized by the Colorado Field Ornithologists as a worthwhile bird-viewing site.


Design Concepts worked with the engineers on the aesthetics of the creek stabilization, ponding, low water crossings, bridge, and shaping of the detention pond berming. Planting for the site included wetland species along the pond and creek edges, three different native seed mixes for fluctuating water levels, perimeter trees, and plants that attracted butterflies and hummingbirds.


Lessons Learned

The execution of this project brought with it many learning opportunities, the majority of which helped us appreciate even more how important the publicโ€™s involvement in community development projects can be. We recognize that people want to live in a beautiful environment, and Jewell Wetlands is a wonderful illustration of how making engineered safety solutions intended to improve the area not look like engineered safety solutions can please the public far more than alternative, unattractive options. Jewell Wetlands is a drainage detention area necessary to protect homes from flooding. It appears, however, as if it is an unfettered, grassy, native bowl.

Jewell also helped us to clarify that the public does enjoy wildlife in their midst, provided the animals are not disruptive. Appropriate habitat must be provided to allow for a complete food chain. Wild creatures are far less likely to create problems with the neighbors when given natural food options, keeping them from disturbing the garbage or endangering pets; and allowing the human public and area wildlife to coexist.


Conclusion

Though the process was at times difficult, the end result is something that all parties can be proud of and the public can enjoy to have as part of their community environment. In 2001 Design Concepts was awarded the Land Stewardship and Design Merit awards for the project by the Colorado Chapter of the ASLA.