LEWISVILLE, Texas – When you think of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Fort Worth District, what comes to mind? While the Corps has several missions to include: civil works, military construction, water sustainment, emergency management, and energy sustainment, just to name a few, the one mission that probably draws the most attention of the public is recreation.
USACE Fort Worth manages 25 lakes across the state of Texas, and while the main purpose of most of these lakes is flood risk management, recreation is what they are primarily known for - parks, campgrounds, boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, etc., and also the uniformed personnel who are the face of these opportunities, Park Rangers.
Park Rangers, also known as Natural Resource Specialists, are stewards of these public lands, charged with conservation and management of natural resources. The natural resources management philosophy is to manage, conserve, and improve these natural resources and the environment while providing quality public outdoor recreation experiences to serve the needs of present and future generations. In all aspects of natural and cultural resources management, Corps managers promote awareness of environmental values and adhere to sound environmental stewardship, protection, compliance, and restoration practices.
This is not always done singlehandedly by USACE; the Corps manages long-term public access to and use of natural resources in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the private sector.
One specific example is what is happening at Lewisville Lake, just north of Dallas in Lewisville, Texas.
As part of an ongoing effort, Lewisville Lake Park Rangers are leading the Lewisville Lake Fisheries Restoration Project with the assistance of the U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) - Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility (LAERF), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries Division, Boy Scouts of America, Department of Energy Oak Ridge for Science and Education, and the Marcus High School Bass Club.
The driving force behind this project is Lewisville Lake Ranger Josh Houghtaling. Houghtaling came to work with USACE Fort Worth at Lewisville Lake in late spring of 2018. As one who describes himself as being “very passionate about the outdoors and bettering wildlife habitat,” he would almost immediately use this passion to work relentlessly on a grant submission to make this project possible.
“The grant that I applied for is titled ‘Lewisville Lake Fisheries Restoration Project,’ and is funded through the national Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership, Friends of Reservoirs Program,” he explained. “This program is established to improve public understanding and knowledge of fish habitat conservation through collaborative partnerships in reservoirs of the United States and supports reservoir conservation activities.”
The Lewisville Lake Fisheries Restoration Project placed second in the nation when ranked against other submissions and received a $30,000 grant.
There are four objectives recognized to achieve this goal: promote shoreline stabilization through the use of soft and hard armoring at areas of concern at four sites of priority concern by USACE in Lewisville Lake; address sedimentation and water quality impairments by developing and establishing native emergent vegetation and using a flood-tolerant seed mixture that works with the hydrology of Lewisville Lake at areas of concern; support recreational activities through fisheries habitat conservation and creation within the littoral zone of Lewisville Lake through temporary brush structure and artificial structures among the areas of concern; and promote education of healthy aquatic ecosystems though restoration activities on Lewisville Lake with the construction and procurement of interpretive kiosks, hiking trails, and signs.
“The goal of this project is to provide the public with a sustainable water resource that can continue to adapt to urbanization and provide habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species,” Houghtaling said.
In efforts to enhance fisheries habitat and promote shoreline stabilization, they have planted native riparian, wetland, and aquatic species at four sites on Lewisville Lake. To support efforts to reduce erosion and stabilize shorelines of Lewisville Lake native seed mixtures of appropriate moist soil grasses, sedges, and forbs were broadcasted in restoration areas to supplement containerized plantings.
“Containerized plants were grown in deep root containers that promoted strong belowground biomass that can withstand the fluctuating hydrology of Lewisville Lake during the establishment phase,” Houghtaling said.
As a project partner, ERDC-LAERF has been working with the district to provide planting plans and seeding specifications, and are providing stock for plantings that were grown from regionally collected propagules within the Trinity River Watershed in North Texas. They also worked directly with project partners in field campaigns to implement planting plans-placing plants at re-vegetation sites on the lake and protecting them from herbivory.
Lynde Dodd, Research Biologist with the Aquatic Ecology and Invasive Species Branch of ERDC, serves as an expert in restoration and invasion ecology of freshwater macrophytes. Her role in this project is to assist the district with recommendations on re-vegetation of native aquatic, wetland, and riparian plants suitable for providing improvements to fisheries habitat while also working to reduce shoreline erosion on Lewisville Lake.
“This work directly supports the district in their efforts toward protection of our natural resources at Lewisville Lake,” Dodd explained. “Submersed aquatic vegetation means improved fisheries habitat - immediate cover and food in the short term - and as aquatic plants establish in the long term, additional benefits will include: improved water quality by reducing turbidity, removal of excess nutrients from the water column via uptake from the plants themselves, and reduced erosion by physically holding lake sediment in place with the production of belowground biomass (roots).”
Additionally, wetland and riparian vegetation planted at the shoreline will serve to reduce erosion as they establish, providing a buffer and increasing cover for wildlife at the shoreline.
Dodd also describes her career as her “passion.”
“I'm lucky that I get to engage with equally passionate partners where we work together to improve habitat for wildlife and better our everyday lives by enriching the world around us,” she said “Not only are we working to overcome challenges that impair water quality and aquatic habitats, we are working to achieve sustainable ecosystems that protect our natural resources.”
Within the next month, the project team will be building and deploying, in suitable areas of the lake, artificial habitats to be built using PVC and large flex tubing. These structures will primarily benefit the bass and crappie species, which are the highly sought after by fishermen. They will be placed at sites and water depths most conducive for use under the direction of USACE staff and input by project partners.
Additionally, a kiosk and hiking trail is currently being constructed by two different Eagle Scout projects. The kiosk will be placed in Hickory Creek Campground and the hiking trail will be in Doe Branch Park.
“Ultimately I would like to bridge an educational gap between humans and understanding of wildlife and habitat,” Houghtaling said.