Published June 11, 2018
As an intern last spring with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Molly Dreyer helped run many of the organization’s planting events across the region’s watershed. That experience sparked Dreyer’s idea to do something similar to give Lake LaSalle on UB’s North Campus a much-needed shot of life.
The northern shore of the lake — the part that runs along Frontier Road, near the Oozefest mud pits — has been slowly crumbling away from erosion caused by a lack of vegetation. At last year’s Celebration of Student Academic Excellence, Dreyer proposed a living shoreline project to mitigate erosion by incorporating plants and other native vegetation that will be both functional and aesthetic.
She’s been working with UB Sustainability, as well as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, UB Facilities and local Rotary clubs to make it a reality.
“I have seen a foot to a foot-and-a-half of erosion here within the past year in some areas of the shoreline,” says Dreyer, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and plans to incorporate the Lake LaSalle project into her master’s program, which she’ll begin at UB this fall.
“One of our concerns was the structural integrity of Frontier Road being compromised if erosion were to continue at this rate. At that point, a ‘hardscaping’ method may be needed to preserve the road. Hopefully this project will reduce or eliminate the need for that,” she adds.
In April, Dreyer led a team of nearly 50 volunteers who planted the first batch of what will be more than 100 shrubs and trees along the northern edge of the lake.
Volunteers planted a 50-foot-by-150-foot wildflower garden in May to mimic the area’s natural wetland meadow. This will provide runoff control, as well as a new habitat for pollinators. Plus, it’s going to look a lot better — and more colorful — to the many runners, bicyclists and wildlife enthusiasts who use the nearby bike path.
Localized erosion has left steep slopes, exposed soil and undercut shorelines at the northern edge of Lake LaSalle, Dreyer explains. Strategically planting native vegetation will mitigate shoreline instability, while providing educational opportunities for university and community members.
“You need vegetation with longer root systems to anchor the soil along the shore,” says Betsy Trometer, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Lower Great Lakes Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office. “As long as this area was only grass, erosion can occur.”
All the shrubs and trees that are being planted are native to the area, for practical reasons and to make other people aware of the possibilities for their own home or garden. “I hope this inspires people to think that native plants can be just as pretty,” Dreyer says.
She chose each based on its suitability for the soil and conditions. She also looked for plants that spread their roots laterally so that the root networks can act to hold back the soil. The aesthetic changes will emerge as soon as the plantings blossom. Their erosion-control measures will take longer to gauge, perhaps several years.
Dreyer envisions this as an ongoing project that can leverage the work of students and faculty from multiple schools at UB.
For example, students in the School of Architecture and Planning could assist with benches and other decorative landscaping pieces. Engineering students could take periodic water samples to monitor the effectiveness of the plantings and adjust accordingly.
The UB Rotaract Club is offering its assistance, along with Rotary clubs from Kenmore and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Funding for the project came from a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as the BNMC and Kenmore Rotary clubs.
UB Facilities has also lent its support. “We are thrilled to be a partner in this and support Molly’s project. The great thing about it is that this has been driven largely by UB students, with Molly bringing together a team of volunteers to help improve and beautify one of North Campus’ most picturesque and vital features,” says Tonga Pham, associate vice president for university facilities.
Dreyer’s is the latest among a series of recent efforts to improve the health of the lake, and access to it, over the past few years.
“I know a lot of people think there’s not fish in Lake LaSalle, or it’s just a mud puddle, but it’s a really important body of water for wildlife, and it’s a significant feature on campus,” Dreyer says.
“Anytime that a mowed lawn is replaced with a native plant community there are tremendous ecological benefits, especially when it is along a lake shore,” adds Timothy DePriest, a Niagara River habitat ecologist with the DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources, who has also been an adjunct instructor at UB.
In addition to staving off erosion, another part of Dreyer’s project will examine the potential to connect the lake to Ellicott Creek through several existing outlet structures that are currently closed off. Linking the two would allow both bodies of water to flourish with fish, she says.
“We could possibly have migratory fish, such as northern pike, use the lake as spawning habitat,” DePriest says. “This would be very beneficial since a lot of the spawning habitat along Ellicott Creek has been lost to development.”
Wildlife won’t be the only living things happy about the project. “I hope this attracts more people to this part of the lake. It’s one of the greatest spots to watch waterfowl on campus,” Dreyer says.
“I really don’t know what this area would look like if we didn’t do anything, but I’m glad we were able to do something.”