When administrators first heard about a proposal to construct a working demonstration stormwater wetland behind Smithfield-Selma High School, they weren't certain if they wanted to install a "swamp" on the 26-acre school grounds. "After all, Smithfield spent 200 years draining swamps and then we told them we wanted to build one," explains Bill Lord, Neuse River Education Team member and N.C. Cooperative Extension agent in environmental education who directed the project.
Lord, originally consulted when the school needed a soccer field drained, realized the solution also would have to include drainage from the school's 70-acre parking lot and its roofs. Research indicated that the best stormwater management practice for the site would be a wetland, which filters out sediment and unneeded nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as metals and chemicals, before they enter the Neuse River's watershed.
An N.C. State University Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department student drew up site plans, Lord helped negotiate the officialdom maze, and site excavation and construction began. After Lord and volunteers, including students, installed 1,500 herbaceous wetland perennials and more than 100 shrubs and trees, a useful, environmentally friendly third-of-an-acre wetland emerged where once only a polluted ditch had run. The resultant shallow pond and surrounding marsh, which cost $14,280, is an outdoor classroom for five environmental biology and two horticulture classes. Students monitor its water quality and learn wetland functions, and wetland plant identification and propagation. Says Smithfield-Selma environmental sciences instructor Ellen Ennis, "This stormwater wetland energized my environmental biology classes. It shows what can be done when people work together to improve both the quality of water in the Neuse River and the learning environment in this school."