West Branch Nature Preserve

WBW upper pondDLC began advocating for the preservation of the 23-acre wetland on the West Branch of the Rocky River in 2006. And we never quit. While the actual, defined wetland was precluded from development by law, the message of DLC was that the surrounding area must be preserved if the ecosystem of the wetland was to be sustained, since many of the animals that comprise the ecosystem spend major portions of their life cycle in the surrounding natural habitat.

Wetlands are nature’s sponges, absorbing stormwater runoff and releasing it gradually to reduce flooding downstream.  Additionally — if they are healthy ecosystems, complete with all their living organisms – they are nature’s filters of our surface waters, reducing the need for costly, high-tech water treatment plants to prevent contamination of drinking water supplies.

The loss of the surrounding habitat and the subsequent loss of the organisms would have left us with a huge, unsightly detention pond, with few of the plants and animals in the wetland surviving. The challenge was that the 67 acres of surrounding habitat had been approved for development with 224 residential units in 2003.

Davidson College Biology Professor Dr. Michael Dorcas documented the presence of 35 species of reptiles and amphibians in the wetland. Numerous species of salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, etc. are found in the West  Branch Wetland to a degree unequalled in any other wetland in this area.  They are dependent upon wooded upland for major portions of their life cycle. Studies have shown that a natural area extending  up to 900’ from the edge of the wetland is necessary to provide adequate range for these key species. Several of the  salamander species, for example, spend the majority of each year living in the leaves and soil of the woods beyond the wetland. They return to the wetland pool in the winter to breed and lay eggs.  Without suitable range for each year’s hatchlings to spread out, these populations would have been lost and their removal from the food web would ultimately have lead to the loss of the entire wetland ecosystem.

A botanical inventory, commissioned by DLC and funded by the Davidson Garden Club and the South Lake Norman Garden Club, also pointed to its unique level of richness by identifying 114 species of plants — and more counting is still to come!
West Branch RR signIn February, 2008, Mecklenburg County Real Estate Services staffer, Steve Law, stepped forward as a partner with DLC and the Town of Davidson to parley with the developer to save the wetland.

When the developer offered to sell the entire 90 acres, Steve did not blink, negotiated a fair price, and obtained the approval of the Board of County Commissioners for the purchase.

The $4.2 million comes from the Open Space Bonds approved by Mecklenburg voters in 2007.

The wetland will become the heart of a nature preserve that is part of the county’s park system.  Long-range plans call for a nature center that will educate the community on the value of wetlands and other natural areas, as well as linkage to the West Branch Greenway and to the Carolina Thread Trail network.