People driving by the old Woodland Creek Golf Course property in Andover are bound to notice some increased activity this summer.
There have already been efforts to remove all evidence that the property was a golf course. The old clubhouse is gone as are the tees, driving ranges and greens. The ponds are still there, but nothing exists on the 64-acre property off South Coon Creek Drive that would indicate there used to be a nine-hole golf course here.
Long before golfers played this course, it was a wetland and that is what it will become once again.
Geri Olson and Sharon Vannelli were among those who first moved into the new neighborhood built near the golf course 13 years ago. They’re happy to see the property will be a wildlife preserve for many species of plants and animals.
They’re unsure whether the paths will draw a lot of people from outside the neighborhood and create problems, but they think it will mainly be neighborhood residents taking a stroll through the restored wetland.
“I think it will be an improvement,” Vannelli said.
The golf course property was 70 acres when the city bought it from Olvan Properties, LLC for $387,000 in October 2013. The city subsequently sold about 6 acres to Capstone Homes for $130,000 for a housing development. In March 2015, the Board of Soil and Water Resources agreed to pay Andover $360,000 in order to dedicate 64 acres as a conservation easement.
Tom Wenzel, senior water resource engineer, said BSWR was interested in this project because it will produce wetland credits that will be used for public road projects throughout Minnesota that need to impact wetlands. He said most of BSWR’s projects are in outstate Minnesota on agricultural land. To his knowledge, this is BSWR’s first wetland restoration project on a former golf course.
But it was only a golf course between 1989 and 2013. Wenzel said aerial photographs dating back to the 1930s show it was possibly a hay meadow at one point and a sod farm.
“(The property) has a long history of alterations,” he said.
To get the area restored to the wetland it once was, non-native species needed to come out. This included willows, cottonwood and silver maple that had been established on soils that were dredged from the wetland. These trees needed to be removed to restore the original condition and hydrology, according to Dan Shaw, senior ecologist and vegetation specialist for BSWR.
“We are not planning to remove any additional trees and the trees that were cut will be placed on the edge of open water areas in the restored wetland to create habitat for wildlife including turtles, herons and wood ducks,” he said.
Some Austrian pine trees planted for the golf course needed to be removed in order to restore the natural topography of the site and allow restoration of prairie vegetation that would not establish well under these pine trees, according to Shaw.
He said that they have been working on removing turf grasses in order to restore wet meadow and prairie plant communities that would have grown on the site prior to it being converted to a golf course. There will be a variety of flowers and grasses that will provide high quality habitat for pollinators, songbirds and other wildlife. Some examples of flowers that will be planted include blue lobeila, native sunflowers, marsh milkweed, golden alexanders and wild iris.
David Berkowitz, city engineer and public works director, said Matt Bullock Contracting Co. will be re-grading the site to make the ponds more shallow and conducive to a wetland. The goal is to start work in May, but the start date is weather dependent. The recent rain has pushed back the start date since the site is so wet.
Berkowitz said there will be a five-year period to transition the property.
In order to let the public enjoy the wetland, there will eventually be a 1.7-mile grass trail. But Berkowitz said they will be posting signs to ask people to stay off the property this year so the new plants can start to get established.
Council Member Val Holthus likes that the city is able to provide a nice open space property in the middle of a neighborhood and that the city did not have to buy the property. This won’t be a park for playgrounds. It will be similar to what Kelsey Round Lake Park is today, although that park has paved trails and this new open space will only have natural mowed grass trails.
“It’s a definite corridor for ducks, geese, eagles and other wildlife,” she said. “It’s creating a wildlife area and something great for the public to escape to.”