Created to mitigate wetland impacts from the expansion of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Crosswinds Marsh has transformed former agricultural land into an ecological treasure valued by both human and natural communities. The project recreated ecosystems for hundreds of native flora and fauna by restoring over 1,000 acres of historical wetland ecosystems. The technical design considered the pump-free hydrologic functions of the site to provide essential habitats that attract hundreds of animal species. While intentionally limiting direct human access, the site still serves as an invaluable educational and community resource, with innumerable opportunities to observe critical habitat. The strategic site design also facilitated low-impact recreation such as hiking, horseback riding, paddling, fishing, and birding, leaving an indelible legacy that continues to offer numerous recreational and learning opportunities for 15,000 annual visitors.
Herons, ducks, owls and pelicans quickly found Crosswinds. Swallows built nests around the pavilion and under the boardwalk, while wood ducks and mallards took to the nesting boxes. A nesting pair of bald eagles set up home within the first five years and are still rearing young on an annual basis. To date, monitoring data has documented 244 bird species, a number that continues to grow each year. Prominent organizations like ebird.org now list Crosswinds Marsh as a national birding hotspot.
Mammals, large and small, have also found homes in Crosswinds Marsh including deer, muskrat and even beavers—a keystone species not seen in Wayne County since the 1930s. Other species have arrived, too: the current tally is 30 mammal species, 20 fish species, 21 reptile and amphibian species, and 70 species of butterflies and dragonflies. “When I first came to Crosswinds 20 years ago, there was nothing there,” remarks Park Naturalist Darrin Bauer. “One of the biggest questions I always get from people is, ‘How did you bring all these animals in here?’ They all came on their own. It’s really amazing.”
Now folded into the Wayne County park system, Crosswinds Marsh offers an array of low-impact recreation including hiking on more than five miles of trails, canoeing, bird watching and horseback riding. Maintaining a sustainable fishery, it is one of the most popular fishing sites in the Detroit metropolitan area.
Through SmithGroup's thoughtful and collaborative design, Crosswinds Marsh has succeeded in providing an important public asset while maintaining the integrity of its natural sustainable systems.