For most of these columns, I write about a big scientific discovery halfway across the world that will likely have far-reaching implications and lead to larger questions. As important as this information is, have you ever wondered about the science happening in Gonzaga’s own backyard?
Lake Arthur is a prime spot for birdwatching, lying in the sun, spotting ducks and watching the river flow on the other side. In order to understand what’s happening with the lake today, we must first learn about its history and origins.
In 1906, James P. McGoldrick moved from Minnesota to Spokane and bought a lumber mill a little south of what is now GU’s campus. The company spanned 60 acres along the Spokane River, according to the Spokesman-Review, and quickly became one of Spokane’s biggest employers.
When the McGoldrick Lumber Co. was in its prime, it would use a little inlet of the river (what’s now Lake Arthur) to store logs as they were moving down the river. In 1945, a hot day in August sparked a fire that destroyed most of the plant and prompted the McGoldrick family to shut down the mill.
GU bought the land and decided to close off the inlet by piling up a bunch of rocks and covering it, which created a separate lake next to the river. After that, construction companies started to use the reservoir as a place to dump their concrete. When the World’s Fair came to Spokane in 1974, the “beautification” era came with it, and there were plans to place a huge solar fountain in the middle of the lake.
Because the rocks are simply piled and water can still flow between the lake and the river through small holes called conduits, the water level of the lake was constantly changing. This inconsistency didn’t work with the pumping system of the fountain, so the project was abandoned and the pieces of the fountain were simply left there.
In 2015, a group of environmental studies seniors noticed the lake needed attention and created the “Lake Arthur Revitalization Project,” which aimed to re-introduce native species and decrease nutrient runoff from the soccer fields. The project, of course, took more than a year to complete, so then-sophomore Geneva Mayall helped take over.
Now that Mayall is a senior, the name has been changed to “Lake Arthur Enhancement Project” and the two floating wetlands are finally ready to be placed into the lake. Mayall is working with seniors Carrie Herrman and Joel Hanson, biology professor Betsy Bancroft and environmental studies professor Greg Gordon.
The name of the project was changed because there’s an important distinction between revitalization and enhancement.
“When we say revitalization, we’re implying that we’re bringing something back to what it originally was,” Mayall said. “That would be removing the rocks and making the lake a part of the river again. Instead, we’re calling it the enhancement project because we’re making it more ecologically viable, creating a more natural flow and allowing better access for species to come and go.”
Each floating wetland is a big pelt with holes, or plugs, where native wetland species can be planted. According to Mayall, they act as a bioremediation tool that will filter toxins and provide habitat for various wetland species. A few invasive species have become a problem for the lake, including the Eurasian milfoil.
“It’s this invasive species of algae that came down from Coeur d’Alene on the sides of boats,” Mayall said. “It’s super bad because it takes up a lot of space and creates blankets on the surface of the water so that oxygen can’t get through to the base layer. Any organism or fish that relies on oxygen will be deprived. It’s called an anoxic dead zone.”
Plant Services has done a pretty good job of getting rid of the milfoil, and over the winter, aeration rocks were put into the lake to help move water when it was freezing and make sure the oxygen was being displaced evenly across the lake.
When the World’s Fair came to Spokane in the ’70s, popular culture wanted nature to be clean-cut and organized, with green grass and picket fences. According to Mayall, our mindset is going back to a wild, untouched perspective on the environment. Xeriscaping, or landscaping that requires little to no irrigation or maintenance, is one of the main goals of the project.
In addition to the floating wetlands, Mayall and the other students are working to install a nature path around the lake with interpretative signage. On April 21 at 4 p.m., the group will be hosting a public event of putting the plants into the floating wetlands and then putting the wetlands into the lake.
“It’s taken so long to make this happen, and now that it’s actually happened, it’s really opened my eyes,” Mayall said. “I was lucky enough to get involved as a sophomore because I get to see a tangible outcome. If I could find a job where I could make things like that happen again, that would be awesome.”
Mayall currently has an internship with the Spokane Conservation District and hopes to pursue a career in water resources or riparian management. According to the project’s timeline, the students aim to install signage by spring 2018 and eventually extend the nature path and install beaver cams.
Rachael Snodgrass is a columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.