Leaf Litter

Biohabitats Projects, Places, & People

Catch up on the latest Biohappenings and see how we’re applying biomimicry to a project in Cleveland, Ohio.

By Amy Nelson

Article Index


Concrete slab becomes ASLA Award-winning urban oasis

For more than 45 years, a one-acre expanse of concrete in Southeast Philadelphia sat at the edge of the Delaware River, empty and forgotten. With an ecologically minded design strategy, we helped the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation transform this vacant lot into Washington Avenue Green, an engaging, evolving riparian ecosystem and community amenity.

The design generates and increases biodiversity in the locale by establishing a seed bank in the new soil, and a node from which native plants can migrate. Working with environmental artist Stacy Levy, we created concrete and asphalt ‘dendridic decay’ gardens that allow native plant species to accelerate decay processes and reclaim the space while adding habitat and stormwater retention and filtration. Concrete salvaged from the site is reused as a seating/retaining wall and as elements in a native ‘rubble’ meadow. Community groups played an active role in the creation of the waterfront park by participating in visioning sessions and watershed workshops. They built a series of floating wetlands that were then tethered to the old pier structure to provide new habitat for aquatic wildlife in the Delaware River.

We’re thrilled to announce that the project was selected as a 2013 Potomac and Maryland Chapter Merit Award winner. The Southern California Chapter of the ASLA, which juried this year’s submissions, determined that the project exhibited a level of excellence that set it apart from others. The design team, snapped at the ribbon cutting last year, includes (L to R) Ed Morgereth (Biohabitats), Jennifer Dowdell (Biohabitats), Stacy Levy (Sere Ltd.), Adam Ganser (Biohabitats) and Joe Forkin (Delaware River Waterfront Corporation).

Swimming through navigation channel = running the gauntlet

If you’ve ever driven through rough weather along a long stretch of highway with no rest stops, you have some sense of what it must be like to be a juvenile yellow perch swimming through Cleveland, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Navigation Channel. Bustling with barge traffic, oxygen depleted, and lined by bulkheads for five miles, the channel can be a challenging place for a fish seeking food or protection from predators. This lack of habitat is common throughout major navigation channels in many Great Lakes cities.

Since 2006, the Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been developing, testing and implementing innovative bulkheads and technologies to create habitat for larval fish while maintaining the channel or navigation. Building on the lessons learned through that process, but applying a new, biomimicry approach, Biohabitats is working with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission on the third phase of this “Green Bulkhead Project.” In this phase, we are looking to nature for inspiration and design guidance. Our team, which includes biomimicry experts Taryn Mead and Barry Patterson, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, Ecocean and fisheries biologist Dr. Jeffrey Miner, is eager to build on previous efforts and join forces to create much needed fish rest stops along the Cuyahoga.

Speaking of green bulkheads…Biohabitats has been working with seniors from the University of Maryland’s Environmental Science and Technology program who have chosen to develop and test different types of living facades that can be affixed to hardscape bulkheads as their capstone project.  The students have deployed one of their test green bulkheads at the Living Classrooms Foundation’s facility in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. We look forward to monitoring the students’ work and applying what we learn to our work in urban waterfronts!

Stream restoration improves campus “life”

On many college campuses, spring is a busy season for intramural sports. The University of Virginia is no exception. Soccer, kickball, and ultimate Frisbee are just some to the activities that bring the Charlottesville campus to life as the weather warms. But a degraded stream that was eroding away some popular athletic fields was threatening to impact that aspect of UVA campus life. Recognizing the opportunity to restore the stream, a tributary to Meadow Creek, and protect the athletic fields, the University turned to Biohabitats. Our design relocates the stream so that it has a larger flow area, more stability, better habitat and improved water quality. The restoration will also replace mown lawn with native riparian vegetation. Construction is nearly complete, and plantings will be in place next month. This restoration, located downstream of two previous stream daylighting and restoration projects we undertook for the University, adds to the overall health of the Meadow Creek ecosystem, and the beauty and function of the campus’ green infrastructure. That’s nothing to be Cavalier about!

Restored stream regenerating habitat, groundwater & more

We love seeing our designs come to life, and last month, we got to do just that as construction wrapped up on the restoration of a degraded tributary network in suburban Crofton, Maryland. Before the restoration, severe bank erosion and channel incision into loose Coastal Plain deposits were threatening infrastructure in an adjacent residential community. Moreover, channel incision resulted in a drawdown of the groundwater table, which changed the plant community, and degraded water quality, and aquatic habitat. Working with the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works, we crafted a design which better connects the channel to its floodplain, restores watershed processes (including groundwater recharge), eliminates high and eroding banks, improves water quality and will result in conditions favorable for native Coastal Plain biota. The restored stream will only continue improving as more plants are installed in the coming weeks.

From Refuse to Refuge

Once the world’s largest landfill, the former Fresh Kills landfill on New York City’s Staten Island is now the site of one of the most ambitious public works projects ever undertaken. Combining state-of-the-art ecological restoration with extraordinary settings for recreation, public art, and sports, the City is transforming the 2,200-acre landfill into a public destination known as Freshkills Park. Earlier this month, the transformation officially began as ground was broken for the first pilot project on the site, the North Park wetland restoration.

With support of a grant from the New York Department of State’s Office of Coastal, Local Government & Community Sustainability, Biohabitats is helping New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation restore two acres of salt marsh and coastal grassland habitat. A variety of restoration techniques are being tested, including the use of mussels to create a stable, ‘living’ shoreline that will be resilient in the face of climate change and sea level rise; and the use of goats as a pesticide-free and potentially job-creating method to help control invasive Phragmites. This pilot project will guide future, larger wetland restoration projects within the Park by determining successful and cost effective measures for restoring tidal marsh.


Next week, senior ecologist Joe Berg will head to New Orleans for the Center for Natural Resources Economy & Policy’s 2013 Conference.

Biohabitats is proud to sponsor two upcoming Society for Ecological Restoration events. The organization’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter Conference will take place March 28-30 in College Park, MD and includes a field trip to visit Ecology-Based Stormwater Improvement Projects in the Greater DC Area, co-led by our own Joe Berg. The Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter’s conference, which takes place April 12-14 in Wooster, OH, will include a chance to learn how our own Paul Kovalcik uses “Stream Restoration as a Tool for Meeting TMDL Goals.” Paul Kovalcik. Kevin Grieser will also be there representing Biohabitats Great Lakes Bioregion office. Be sure to stop by the Biohabitats table to say hello!

April 13 is the date of this year’s conference of the Ecological Society of America’s Mid-Atlantic chapter. Senior ecologist Joe Berg will be in Newark, DE to attend.

Senior engineer Mike Lighthiser will present “Living Infrastructure for Sustainable Stormwater and Wastewater Treatment Systems” at Rocky Mountain Green, which takes place April 25-26 in Denver. The theme of this year’s event is “Action with Impact,” and Mike will be joining a diverse group of folks who are playing a role in transforming the built environment.

Water resources engineer Jennifer Zielinski and ecologist Suzanne Hoehne will be in Cincinnati May 5-8 for the annual Ohio Stormwater Conference. Jennifer will present Green Infrastructure & Redevelopment: Perspective of the Developer’s Consultant. Suzanne will team up with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s J. Meiring Borcherds to share a case study: “Stream Restoration While Creating a Stormwater Amenity and Outdoor Classroom.”

If you are the Chesapeake Bay area and like to party for a cause, you won’t want to miss the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s annual Treasure the Chesapeake event on May 10 in Annapolis. We’re proud to sponsor this event!

Cincinnati is also the site of this year’s World Environmental and Water Resources Conference, May 20-22. If you’re there, keep an eye out for project engineer Justin Lyon.

Project engineer Alan Garrido will talk with students, faculty, and other professionals gathered at the University of Cundinamarca in Bogata, Colombia about the benefits of using natural systems to treat wastewater. His presentation, “Humedales construidos, una alternative sostenible de tratemiento para los aguas rediuales,” is part of El Agua Y Las Tecnologia Sostenibles Para Su Tratameinto, a conference hosted by ASECOL and KRESKY.

How do we build, design and innovate in a changing climate? Innovators will gather in Seattle May 15-17 to address this question at Living Future 13, and senior engineer Pete Muñoz will be among them. The theme of this year’s event is “Resilience & Regeneration” and Pete will present “Net-Zero Nutrition– Crowd Sourcing the Next Imperative.”

Senior fluvial geomorphologists Vince Sortman will be in San Antonio May 28-30 to present “Urban Stream Enhancement and Stabilization” to attendees of the Southwest Stream Restoration  Conference.

Biohabitats president Keith Bowers is honored to be a plenary speaker at the  56th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research, which will be held on the campus of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana June 2-6. If you plan to attend, don’t miss Keith’s talk: “From Theory to Practice; Restoring the Future of the Great Lakes”


Jessica Hardesty Norris, Technical Writer

Newly transplanted to South Carolina, Jessica Hardesty Norris recently joined our proposal team as a Technical Writer. She spent a decade living in and traveling to South America, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, then as a researcher completing her PhD in avian ecology at Duke, and most recently as the director of a seabird conservation program, which she led into 10-fold growth through grant writing and fundraising. Working on island restorations for seabirds ignited her interest in restoration, so she lurked around Biohabitats website and pestered Keith until they hired her.  Now she is happy to be helping the technical staff bring together proposals, and also to be sticking closer to home and her (soon-to-be three) young daughters.

Scott Pullen, Construction Project Manager

Many little boys dream winning the World Series. For landscape architect Scott Pullen, this dream was realized at age 10, when, as starting right fielder for the Columbus Bruins, he helped his team win the Little League World Series. These days, Scott is immersed in what you might call the World Series of Stormwater Retrofits. As Biohabitats’ Construction Project Manager, Scott is helping Montgomery County, Maryland retrofit more than 4,000 acres of impervious surface over the next three to five years in order to comply with their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, one of the most stringent in the nation. With his 16 years of experience in landscape design, construction and management and a self-professed need to keep his hands in the dirt, Scott is ideally suited to this work. In fact, his commitment to water quality is about the only thing in his life that equals his passion for The Ohio State University (his alma mater) sports. Though Scott’s career as a right fielder ended in little league, we’re quite certain he’s in the right field with us!

Got an idea?

Contact The Editor

Sign up for Leaf Litter

Browse by topic

Browse by year