Photo by Andrew Wigdor / MTSU Sidelines
On Aug. 4, 2017, the Murfreesboro City Council approved the purchase of 11.7 acres of natural wetlands that were, at one point, in danger of being disturbed by 91 town homes that were to be built on the land.
The city’s purchase of the Oaklands Park wetlands, which was finalized in September of 2017, came after Justyna Kostkowska, a Middle Tennessee State University English professor and Murfreesboro resident, created a petition on change.org to save the wetlands from the town home development. The petition eventually closed with over 1,000 signatures, and the town home developer, Brian Burns, withdrew his construction plans due to fears that the development would be too costly. As of now, the city is still in the process of deciding how the wetlands, which sit adjacent to the historic Oaklands Mansion, should be preserved, and the Save Oaklands group is continuing their efforts to keep the area clean. According to Kostkowska, the group prefers the land to become a nature preserve rather than a public park.
“It’s a very rare situation where this area has not been affected by humans for a long time,” Kostkowska said. “It’s a naturally safe haven for animals and wildlife … You cannot have a safe haven for wildlife and a city park at the same time. If you put a trail through there, the animals will not stay.”
Kostkowska stated that, despite the wetlands being mostly undisturbed by humans, cleanup days are still necessary due to the frequent litter.
“We’ve already done cleanups there and hauled all this trash from there,” Kostkowska said. “Even without being accessible, there is trash there. It is mostly plastic beverage containers that people must be chucking into the water. It’s amazing how people do that now, and if that place is made accessible, I can imagine how that would multiply.”
During the August meeting, in which the purchase was approved, City Manager Rob Lyons stated that the wetlands would be preserved as a “natural area” but also stated that the city would be looking into the placement of pathways throughout the wetlands.
Kostkowska and the Save Oaklands group have been in contact with city officials in the hopes of partnering on conservation efforts and to stay up-to-date on the city’s decision.
“We have talked to Angela Jackson, and she has said there are several ideas (about what to do with the land),” Kostkowska said. “But, she is very protective of the area. She recognizes that making it accessible would possibly take away from what it is now.”
Jackson, who was named director of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department in December of 2016, stated that many city officials are committed to ensuring the safety of the wetlands.
“(The) Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department is now managing the site as a part of Oaklands Park, incorporating into the protected natural area of Maney Springs Wetlands,” Jackson said. “Conservation is a key focus and responsibility of Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation.”
Jackson has been working on this initiative alongside Murfreesboro Recreation Superintendent Rachel Singer, who leads the Outdoor Murfreesboro initiative. Singer said that Outdoor Murfreesboro, which provides numerous recreational opportunities for Murfreesboro residents, allows ordinary citizens to get involved and be a part of the cleanup process.
“Most often, people comment on the trash that is found in our wetlands and river around the city,” Singer said. “The biggest education component lies in understanding how watersheds work: They are drainage basins … Unfortunately, a rain event will take other things that can be washed with the water, such as bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts and other trash items … With this information and when seen first hand, many people are motivated to change their personal practices at homes and businesses.”
Beyond the cleanups that the Save Oaklands group has been a part of, Kostkowska and Danielle Brown, an MTSU biology lecturer, have applied for an MTSU public service grant.
“We were just trying to come to the table with some funds, so that the city feels our support,” Kostkowska said. “We can become stewards of the (wetlands), and it’s not just draining city money. It’s very exciting to think that the people feel that involved.”
Kostkowska advised that citizens who wish to become involved in the preservation efforts should pay attention to the Save Oaklands Park Wetland Facebook page, where volunteer days and cleanups will be announced.
“The city will, of course, make the decisions, but, hopefully, they will consider the wishes of the friends of the wetlands,” Kostkowska said.
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