When John Brock saw the ditch on the far west side of ASU’s Polytechnic campus a few years ago, he realized it could become much more than an outlet for storm drainage.
Now, the ditch is the focus of an ecological restoration that will draw birds and other wildlife to the area.
Brock, a professor of applied biological sciences, is leading the effort, teaching the six students in his practicum course how to restore an area to its natural state. They’ve been clearing out pesky plants, such as the persistent Mexican paloverde trees that can hinder the growth of native plants along the waterway.
Day by day, the trapezoid ditch is transforming into a riparian preserve.
“We have a little bit of nature out here,” said Tosh Black, an ASU senior from Mesa studying wildlife habitat management. “It’s a riparian area just in the middle of society.”
He and senior Bethany Porter of Gilbert have spotted wildlife tracks in and around the ditch. Skunks have burrowed in. Coyotes visit the area and a roadrunner occasionally shows up.
Brock has led similar restorations across the state in Globe and the Gila River Indian Community. He had planned to start the Polytechnic restoration of the ditch last spring after ASU won a $12,400 grant from the Arizona Heritage Fund, but a wet spring forced a delay.
Brock and his team of students this semester have put in two or three hours of work every day, planting trees and shrubs: Cottonwoods, mesquite and spring hackberry, a spiny tree that protects small birds from predators. Some wildflowers at the site include fairy duster, desert marigolds, California poppies, and globe mallows. The area also will grow deer grass, cane beard grass and Arizona cotton top.
As Brock described the project, three grackles settled into a nearby tree.
The landscape of their new home, the preserve, will be finished by the end of May, Brock said.
“We’re going to run drip irrigation,” he said. “Within a year, we should be able to roll the irrigation line up, and these desert plants should be able to subsist on their own.”