St. Louis + Destination


Travel & Nature Photojournalism

Shaw Nature Reserve (SNR) is an extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden network. Located along the Meramec River in Gray Summit, Missouri, the reserve encompasses 2,400 acres of diverse landscape spanning 1.5 miles of riverfront access.

The Botanical Garden purchased the reserve in 1925 to serve as a safe haven for the garden’s growing plant collection. As a result of extensive coal-burning to heat St. Louis City, heavy soot content polluted the air of the city and surrounding communities. Smoke plumes would cover the city for days at a time, slowly killing the Botanical Garden’s live plants.

Located 35 miles away from the city, the reserve was an ideal refuge for possible plant relocation. The Botanical Garden would soon move their orchid collection to Shaw, but as pollution levels began to decrease, it was no longer necessary to relocate the remaining plants.

A large tree at Shaw Nature Reserve

Today, Shaw Nature Reserve is a solace from the city; a place to walk, wander, and appreciate nature. SNR is committed to research and education, community outreach, and prairie and animal habitat restoration.

“Shaw Nature Reserve strives to inspire responsible stewardship of our environment through education, restoration and protection of natural habitats, and public enjoyment of the natural world.”

– SNR Mission Statement

Shaw Nature Reserve recently hosted a tour of their wetland mitigation bank to Missouri Botanical Garden members. This reserved area is typically closed to the general public, and the tour served as a great behind-the-scenes look at the garden’s grand efforts in prairie and animal habitat restoration. A small group of garden members gathered at the SNR visitors center to meet our tour guides, Mike and Calvin. Sharing their extensive knowledge in ecological restoration, we embarked on a 3-hour tour of the wetlands.


Wetland Loss

A staggering 60,000 acres of wetlands are lost annually in the United States. It is estimated that 50% of all wetlands in the U.S. have been lost since the first European settlers arrived in the Americas. Since that time, approximately 87% of wetlands have been destroyed in Missouri alone. SNR is currently in the process of creating an 85-acre restoration bank in the floodplains of the Meramec River.

Wetland pond with lilies

What is wetland mitigation?

Wetland mitigation, also known as compensatory mitigation, is the creation, restoration, enhancement, or preservation of a wetland area. This practice helps to offset the ecological damage done by the draining and alteration of wetland territories for economic purposes. The value of the mitigation bank is determined by compensatory mitigation credits, which are purchased by producers to compensate for the impact of lost wetlands and disturbed streams.

Mitigation Banking Diagram

Graphic provided by Westervelt Ecological Services

A Shaw Nature Reserve tour guide describes ecological restoration

Mike, the Ecological Restoration Supervisor at SNR, describes the reserve’s restoration efforts and cattle operation.

A Shaw Nature Reserve tour guide describes changing water levels

Calvin, an Ecological Resource Scientist at SNR, discusses how aquatic plants move with the changing water levels.

Daisies at Shaw Nature Reserve

What is mitigation banking?

Mitigation banking is the practice of balancing ecological loss with financial compensation to preserve and restore other lands. This system ensures that there is no net-loss to the environment due to the conversion and development of land for economic growth. Mitigation banks are highly regulated entities responsible for overseeing the perpetual conservation and ecological functionality of dedicated land.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act defines the requirements for a wetland mitigation bank, and the efforts are regulated and enforced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Originally established as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, guidelines were greatly expanded and modified into the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Water Lilies in the Wetlands

Woolgrass disbursement GIF

Mike demonstrates the effective distribution of Woolgrass, Scirpus cyperinus.


Mitigation Credits

A mitigation credit is a unit of trade utilized to offset the environmental and ecological damage done by unavoidable land development. The purchase of credits provides the funding needed to preserve and restore wetland territories. Once entities purchase mitigation credits, it is the mitigation bank’s responsibility to oversee the stewardship of the management of the land. Across the SNR 85-acre mitigation bank, 46 credits can be purchased to offset damages done to wetland habitat around the Meramec River. Shaw Nature Reserve will use the revenue earned through the sale of mitigation credits towards ecological restoration efforts.

A tour guide offers information about wetland restoration Large clouds against blue autumn skyWetland Mitigation Bank Tour at SNR

Why are wetlands important?

Considered the most biologically diverse and productive of our ecosystems, the restoration and preservation of wetland areas is crucial to the survival of many plants and animals. In addition to providing animal habitats and resources for migrating birds, wetlands absorb and slow floodwaters from surrounding rivers. Think of wetlands as a natural sponge. When the Meramec River swells and overflows, the surrounding wetlands help to absorb and retain that overflow, preventing further damage to the surrounding communities. Wetlands are also effective in absorbing pollution before it reaches the surrounding bodies of water.

Shaw Nature Reserve Wetland Mitigation Bank

Wetland Conservation & Restoration

Wetlands do not only nourish and protect thousands of species of animal and plant life. Nearly half of the world’s human population sources their basic water needs from inland freshwater wetlands. Rice grown in wetlands around the world is a staple diet for billions of people. The fisheries operated in natural or man-made wetlands provide employment for more than 1.5 million people. There are many reasons why humanity must protect and preserve our wetlands.

We can all help to preserve wetland communities through volunteer work, by planting native species along streams and wetlands, donating to charitable organizations that oversee wetland conservation, and by practicing sensible pest control and chemical use. Living an environmentally friendly lifestyle benefits the entire planet.

Tour Information

Host: Shaw Nature Reserve, 307 Pinetum Loop Rd, Gray Summit, MO 63039

Purpose: To give a tour of the wetland mitigation bank property, a space south of the reserve normally closed to the general public.

Organizer: Rachel Weller, Coordinator of Public Programs at Shaw Nature Reserve

Tour Guides: Michael Saxton, Ecological Restoration Supervisor at Shaw Nature Reserve, and Calvin Maginel, Ecological Resource Scientist at Shaw Nature Reserve

Date: Friday October 2, 2020

Time: 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Weather Conditions: Partially Sunny, low 60’s

Sources: Missouri Botanical Garden, Environmental Protection Agency