Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Why Landscapers Are Planting Crops on the Arch Grounds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Why Landscapers Are Planting Crops on the Arch Grounds

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Radishes are rotting on the Gateway Arch grounds.

Crews planted about 400,000 last fall. By the end of October, tufts of bright green had sprouted in unruly rows all over the national park.

They've now largely decomposed. But they did what they were supposed to: They sent their thick tap roots almost two feet deep. They froze this winter and died. And they left hundreds of thousands of long, skinny holes in the ground, softening soil that has been compacting for decades.

"It actually feels almost like you're walking through a forest," said Arch grounds contractor and arborist James Sotillo, one of the brains behind the plan. "That's the beauty of these radishes. As they grow, they're releasing all of these incredible metabolites into the soils."

Much attention has been paid to the biggest components of the $380 million CityArchRiver renovation. The $172 million downtown- facing, glass-and-steel museum. The lid that spans the highway, reconnecting downtown to the park. The nearly 900 London plane trees some being planted now to replace the beetle-threatened ash trees.

But designers are also fretting the most unseen of details the very ground on which all of this grows.

The land under the Arch isn't particularly fertile. It is largely low-quality clay fill, dumped over the remnants of buildings demolished and left. Officials at the National Park Service and CityArchRiver foundation have said that the old ash trees weren't going to last much longer, even if the emerald ash borer never reached St. Louis the soil simply wasn't fertile enough to support big trees with long lives.

To remedy the problem, Arch grounds contractors have matched compost with the grasses they're planting, so the right nutrients and organisms are in the ground. They've been brewing a special concoction called a "liquid biological amendment" and began spraying it every spring and fall before construction even started.

And they've spent millions of dollars to buy and truck in tons of new topsoil.

"When you think about ecology, you have to have good soil," said Susan Trautman, executive director of the regional trails organization Great Rivers Greenway. …

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