Landscapes of the Month: Bringing Biodiversity to Mirror Lake - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Bringing Biodiversity to Mirror Lake

Photo: EMI

When The Ohio State University decided to transform Mirror Lake from a brick-bottom, man-made pond into a marsh wetland that resembled the original spring-fed pond from the 1890s, they knew to turn to Environmental Management Services, Inc., (EMI) based in Plain City, Ohio.

The university has worked with EMI on many construction projects prior to Mirror Lake so they were confident in the company’s ability to perform this complex project on an iconic part of their campus.

Photo: EMI

“EMI appreciates all our partnerships, and we work hard to remain competitive in a very tight market to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship,” says John Loos, senior project manager for EMI. “We do this with our buying power and continued focus on performance efficiencies. All our business partners can rest assured they are working with a company that will meet or exceed expectations for workmanship with an equally focused approach on the project budget.”

This project was a 2+ year project from the initial contract award to final acceptance walk-throughs. EMI’s hard work restoring this historical landmark earned them a Gold Award in the 2021 Awards of Excellence.

“It means something to be an alumnus of such a respected university, and as an alumnus to be involved in the revamping of the iconic Mirror Lake is something I will always cherish,” Loos says. “Receiving the Award of Excellence is and will always be a landmark achievement in my career in the industry and with EMI. Being at a company that operates as EMI does, allowed me that opportunity and I am honored to be a member of the team that made the project such a success.”

The goal of the project was to create a sustainable space that promotes safety and increases the overall biodiversity in the area. Prior to 2016, there was minimal seating and limited plant life.

Photo: EMI

EMI installed 10,400 perennials of 17 varieties, 20,700 ground cover plugs and over 31,000 wetland plants of 9 varieties. An additional 51 trees were planted to provide dimension to the area, and nine 6” diameter trees were brought in to give a mature look to the landscape.

“The plant material was sourced through many different nurseries and growers,” Loos says. “Having worked in the industry for so long EMI has strong relationships with nurseries and growers both in the region and nationally. There was time allowed as well for many of the smaller perennials to be custom grown by our own staff and outside growers.”

These plants were added to provide a haven for pollinators and wildlife. The huge number of plant material used was necessary to transform it from a concrete, man-made pond into a natural-looking lake. The wetlands serve as a natural filter for the water, reducing the need for chemical treatments.

EMI’s team had to wade into the water and work quickly while the lake was partially drained to make planting easier, but the water levels needed to be raised quickly so the plants wouldn’t die.

Photo: EMI

The university’s safety goal was met by reducing the water depth of Mirror Lake and by creating a barrier of marsh materials to deter people from entering the water.  

Some of the challenges EMI faced included preserving the existing mature trees and having a hard deadline of completing the project before students returned for the fall semester in 2018.

Safety barriers and fencing were put around each mature tree to prevent excavating in the root zone and the company worked efficiently and used reliable suppliers to prevent setbacks to the timeline.

Working in a historical area where the landmark is vital to the school’s identity created pressure for excellence so EMI educated their employees on the importance of the project. They also were in regular contact with the client and design teams to ensure the work was above expectations.

Photo: EMI

Another challenge was a stone arch constructed of 26 individual custom-cut pieces of limestone with a keystone that locked it all together.

“Each piece had a one-inch setback from the stone below as well to create an appearance of depth,” Loos says. “When standing in front of the arch you can easily see that it falls away from the top to bottom. To keep the arch symmetrical in multiple planes was a challenge we gave to our best artisans, and they executed the plan perfectly. EMI is grateful for the experts we have working with us.”

Mirror Lake now serves as an oasis is in the middle of a bustling campus and provides a refuge for students to enjoy nature. The Grotto has become a favorite study area for students.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your project when entries open in February 2022. 

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.