Even a brief visit to Davenport’s Nahant Marsh will show something unusual: a wetland habitat nestled in an area that includes an interstate highway, a railroad, and various agricultural and industrial uses. You’ll likely see plants and animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the Quad Cities area, just a few minutes’ drive from the Rockingham Road exit of Interstate 280 in the southwestern part of the city.
“We know it’s the largest urban wetland between St. Paul and St. Louis” along the Mississippi River, said Executive Director Brian Ritter. “We think it’s one of the largest urban wetlands in the United States.”
Yet getting a fuller sense of the marsh requires patience. As Nahant Marsh Board President Tim Murphy noted: “The marsh does not usually reveal itself easily but will come to those that sit and take the time to observe.”
In an e-mail, he said that “I really like the beaver complex in the northern part of Nahant proper. ... I never cease to be amazed at how beavers have created a substantial pond on ground that has almost no flow of water. I am very curious to see how this pond will be colonized and used by plants and other animals, as well. This seems to me to be an example of how nature works ... largely outside of human influence. ...
“There are also other fish-free shallow-water excavations that hopefully will become areas that hold and nurture a variety of amphibians, including newts and salamanders. The number of little critters that can be found in the marsh proper is really amazing. ... There are almost always some ducks, geese, herons, or other waterfowl using the marsh. To see a muskrat, beaver, or otter takes quite a bit more luck ... .”
Julie Malake – a photographer, artist, and member of the Friends of Nahant Marsh – offered several examples of repeated, leisurely visits showing different facets of the wetland: “A particularly magical change has been the return of the sandhill cranes,” she wrote. “During the first years of going to the marsh [starting in 2006], I saw no cranes. In the spring of 2011, I first saw a crane at Nahant Marsh, and since then, cranes have been regular visitors. This year, sandhill cranes have been seen frequently, and I’ve been able to observe them often.”
She continued by calling Nahant Marsh “a wild, ever-changing garden full of once-widespread native plants, and [it] is extremely popular with many kinds of birds. ... What they [visitors] might see will vary widely from day to day, even moment to moment. I would also recommend to those who do visit to take their time and be still a while. Chances are good that the marsh’s residents will forget your presence and simply go about their business. There’s always much more going on there than is readily apparent.”
The marsh will be celebrating its 15th anniversary as a nature preserve and education center on October 20 with a 5 to 8 p.m. family event featuring “river rat” Kenny Salwey, musicians Ellis Kell and Kendra Swanson, food, and (hopefully) a classic Nahant Sunset. The celebration will provide a taste of what Malake called “a piece of heaven on earth. I love to walk outdoors before dawn, going down to the water’s edge to sit quietly as all the colors of sunrise slowly paint their way down the bluff and across the water. I have been going there for almost 10 years now, and no two days have ever been the same. In every season, in every weather, in all the different times, there have been images of beauty, and sometimes surprises.”