FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. (AP) — A portion of Missouri's Old Lead Belt region could soon be turned back into a forest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are working together to restore a part of the Madison County Miles Superfund Site, St. Louis Public Radio reported. The area is near Fredericktown, about 90 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Lead mining in the 19th century contaminated the area, prompting placement on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List in 2003.
State and federal officials planted 550 trees in November with the goal of developing a flood plain forest that could improve water quality, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.
"It's important for people who are recreating in the river, whether they are fishing or floating," John Weber, environmental contaminants specialist for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said. "It's important for downstream species of mussels. There's some species listed on the endangered species list that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about."
Fredericktown officials are assisting in the effort, which is expected to expand in coming years to other areas.
"I think it's important for current and future residents to restore these areas back to a natural state," John Bennett, Fredericktown's former city manager who is developing a plan to clean up the local watershed, said.
Trustees of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, allocated $150,000 for the effort. In addition to planting trees, volunteers will help remove invasive species of plants, such as the autumn olive and the bush honeysuckle.
Weber said heavy metals and mining are "a really big part of the culture and heritage of Madison and other counties in southeast Missouri.
"I like to think of it as a nice way for this story to conclude," he said. "If we can take a previously contaminated site and make it back into viable habitat that serves the needs of people and wildlife, then we've done a good thing."