Quarry restoration is part natural, part manmade, all Rocky
Hett’s vision balances natural processes with manmade improvements
Rocky Hett was improving wildlife habitat at his farm at the northeast corner of Marion long before Martin Marietta started taking limestone out of it in 1990.
Today, five years after quarrying ceased, restoring the property to natural conditions is well underway, with former contractors and Mother Nature lending helping hands.
There never was a question that excavated areas would be restored in some fashion. Kansas Department of Health and Environment required Martin Marietta to put up a bond before digging that won’t be returned until the state signs off on reclamation efforts.
“They have to put it back to as natural as what it was and to the landowner’s acceptance,” Hett said. “After all these years, a lot has grown up in cottonwood trees and back to grass. They aren’t going to have to do half as much as they were going to have to do to begin with because there’s cover on it now. It’s perfect wildlife cover.”
The quarry is far more than a single big hole to fill.
There are several deep excavations, including one near the south entrance that has turned into a large pond with a limestone tower in the middle.
Another area that Hett calls “the badlands” has long, winding sections that look like broad gullies with tall shoulders.
All of it is surrounded by woods, meadows, and tilled fields that make up the rest of the farm.
It would be impossible to replace everything that was taken out, but that’s not the goal of reclamation, and it wouldn’t fit with Hett’s plans.
Instead, he’s leaving some areas alone and tweaking others to enhance wildlife habitat and create areas that could serve recreational uses, including hunting.
Hett recalled a visit by a KDHE inspector to whom he made a case for keeping a manmade hill that nature had already reclaimed.
“I was telling him what I wanted, just to let the trees grow and leave it for my deer hunters, and he was a deer hunter,” Hett said. “Here come three does from the north, over the hill and running right past the pickup. He looked at me and said, ‘Did you have somebody chase them by us?’”
Sections of the badlands have grass and trees growing, too. Some of those areas will be reshaped and narrowed, but Hett wants to preserve a narrow road.
“I’ve got roads everywhere,” he said.
Excavated areas that are broad and shallow fit well with Hett’s vision of creating a series of wetland areas fed primarily by runoff from surrounding land and incorporating a couple of existing shallow ponds.
Road crossings and small dams will be constructed, in part from concrete scoured from area road projects. Hett has arranged for a Newton contractor to crush the concrete and remove metal rebar per KDHE specifications.
“We’re doing everything above board,” Hett said.
A small dam with an overflow will turn a deep excavation east of the entry pond into another pond, Hett said, with water flowing into some of the wetlands and eventually into Clear Creek.
Areas of the quarry that weren’t excavated aren’t required to be reclaimed but remain under KDHE jurisdiction until final work is approved and the land is released to Hett.
One such place is where rock crushers were set up. With gravel up to three feet deep in places, it resembles a large parking lot with scattered patches of grass and weeds. Hett said he had several options in mind for it, including possibly selling loads of “cheap gravel” to other farmers.
Hett said he was trying to stay true to the natural beauty of the farm’s varied environs, something he has cultivated since the 1980s, when he planted about 500 cedar, walnut, and wild plum trees. He has won several conservation awards over the years, including “a big one” from Ducks Unlimited, he said.
Martin Marietta’s involvement should be finished in about 18 months, Hett said, but even after KDHE signs off on the work, reclamation and improvements will continue.
“I’ll never get done,” Hett said. “It’s coming along.”
Last modified July 20, 2017