By 2006, the burdens of nutrient loading, sedimentation, and waterfowl were more than the lake environment could handle. The Lake Restoration Task Force envisioned a very different Furman Lake--a lake that would act more like a natural system because it was more like a natural system. In other words, we envisioned a Furman Lake with high biological diversity, high structural complexity, and high physical complexity. We envision a lake functionally integrated with the surrounding watershed. We envisioned a lake that improved water quality before sending it on to our neighbors along the Reedy River. We envisioned a lake that--because of its complexity--is functional, interesting, and beautiful.

Improving the Environmental Integrity of the Lake Watershed

To restore a more natural level of ecosystem function, the Lake Restoration Task Force recommended three major initiatives. First, appropriate vegetation should be planted in the lake and on the surrounding landscape to absorb nutrients, slow surface runoff, and deter waterfowl. Second, the inputs to the lake (streams and storm drains) should be naturalized so that water, nutrients, and sediments enter the lake in a natural, regulated manner. Lastly, waterfowl populations must be reduced to decrease nutrient and bacteria concentrations in the lake. Here is a summary of the direct and indirect benefits that these initiatives should provide:

1. Plant vegetation in the lake, on the surrounding border, and along stream channels

  • Absorb nutrients and sediments entering the lake from the streams
  • Create a beautiful array of flowering aquatic plants
  • Create a habitat for herons and egrets
  • Create a nursery area for juvenile fish
  • Reduce shoreline erosion and sediment transport to water
  • Cool the shallows and reduce the rate of algal and bacterial growth
  • Discourage geese and ducks
  • Provide habitat for a wide array of songbirds
  • Plantings that provide good seed sources (e.g. sunflowers and thistles) will increase the abundance and diversity of seed-eating songbirds.
  • Create a more colorful, beautiful flowering border, emphasizing native species and minimizing the use of potentially invasive exotic plants
  • Create a habitat for butterflies
  • Discourage children from entering (or falling into) the lake
  • Focus access on particularly appropriate viewpoints
  • Stabilize stream banks to prevent undercutting
  • Riparian zones have a dramatic positive effect on ecosystem health and resident populations of fish and invertebrates.

2. Create smaller “rain gardens” between parking lots and the lake

  • Smaller “rain gardens” can be used where ever runoff needs to be collected and added slowly to the lake.
  • Absorb nutrients entering the lake from the streams
  • Create a beautiful array of flowering aquatic plants
  • Create a habitat for a wide array of animals and plants
  • Slow the water from the storm drain and reduce sediment transport to the lake

3. Reduce waterfowl populations

  • Reduce feces in surrounding lawns
  • Reduce nutrient loading in the lake
  • Reduce bacteria concentrations in the lake
  • Potentially increase waterfowl diversity

4. Possible additional steps

  • Dredging will be necessary to reduce water depth and cut channels in the wetland areas to maximize water flow
  • Aerators might be necessary to reduce algal populations

Additional Design Elements to Create a Multi-Purpose Facility:

The changes that are proposed will dramatically change the look of Furman Lake. Parts of the bays on either side of the Bell Tower would be wetlands with aquatic plants. The border of the lake would be vegetated with thick rushes in some places, and flowering plants in others. There would be fields of wildflowers where the distance between the jogging trail and lake permit. These changes would limit human access to the lake. This is beneficial on one hand, because it would reduce erosion and also reduce feeding of the waterfowl. However, because people are naturally drawn to water, it would be nice to provide other design elements that would allow people to access the water in limited and appropriate ways. Likewise, the presence of more varied wildlife (butterflies, songbirds, and perhaps a wider variety of less abundant migratory ducks) might necessitate the construction of different types of viewing opportunities. Here are some design elements that we think might be exciting and useful:
1. Sites for picnickers: The picnic shelter and its environs could be upgraded. In addition, a couple of picnic tables could be positioned around the lake at particular viewpoints, or at a focal picnic area.
2. An observation deck extending into the lake, and boardwalks across or near the wetlands: These will provide excellent viewing opportunities for watching wading birds, songbirds, butterflies, and dragonflies. It could also provide an ideal site for photographing the Bell Tower. A permanent blind for birdwatching could also be constructed.
3. A jogging/walking/biking trail: The existing jogging trail should be kept, but the paved surface could be replaced by a graded trail, or a pavement with a porous surface to reduce erosion from runoff.
4. A nature trail: A nature trail along the back of the lake might meander through the wildflowers, cross the wetlands on boardwalks, and connect to the observation deck. The nature trail could also have a tree map for the trees already identified in the arboretum. In addition, there could be observation stations positioned around the lake, with the permanent ‘binocular stations’. Bat boxes, bluebird boxes, birdfeeders, and hummingbird feeders would attract wildlife.
5. Educational signage: This can point out particular species, describe ecological principles (succession, nutrient cycling, water cycle, etc.), and also describe how particular elements of the lake restoration project are designed to achieve particular objectives.
6. Furman’s “Rails to Trails” Station: A tramline is likely to link Travelers Rest to Greenville in the future, using the railroad line that runs right along the western boundary of Furman Lake. There will certainly be a “stop” or “station” on the FU campus. If this is near the lake, we will need to consider how to manage foot and bike traffic and minimize impact on the lake itself.
7. A microturbine in the lake outflow: There are very small hydroelectric generators that can generate power from a head as shallow as five feet. The head on the lake is approximately 30 feet, and it is a very constant flow. The turbine could be used to power footlights along the jogging trail, or streetlights to the tram station.
8. Canoe/kayak rental: When water quality improves, it might be appropriate to allow limited access to the lake surface. A canoe/kayak rental could be orchestrated from facilities services or the bookstore.
9. Fishing: When water quality improves, we could also allow fishing on the lake. A limited number of day permits could be issued, and fishing could be limited to particular areas to limit trash and trampling.

The Lake As Pedagogy:

The restoration of Furman Lake will provide extraordinary educational opportunities in ecology, botany, zoology, natural resource management, ornithology, entomology, microbiology, hydrology, biogeochemistry, sediment transport and deposition, GIS, and environmental science. First, students and faculty can become involved in implementing parts of the plan. Second, students and faculty will be involved in measuring the effects that the restoration efforts have on the water quality and health of the environment.
The naturalized lake will become a destination for field trips by local schools and nature groups. The constructed wetlands would be particularly interesting to some in our community. The nature trail would have an accompanying pamphlet, highlighting particular sites at stations along the way. In addition, a nature guide could be written that would be more complete than a pamphlet, and might form the foundation for curricular ideas for teachers. It could also suggest some projects or comparisons that could be performed at the lake.
The lake will become a living example of restoration ecology. Businesses, colleges, or municipalities with similar shallow impoundments will be interested in visiting Furman and studying the progress we have made. This restoration will become a model for other universities interested in environmental sustainability.

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