City Utilities welcomed hikers and birdwatchers to Camp Scott Wetlands in southeast Fort Wayne recently to see the plants and birds and better understand the role of wetlands.

Because the property is a functioning part of City Utilities’ operation, such public events are rare. However, as part of American Wetlands Month, City Utilities hosted the May 22 tour “to recognize the importance of wetlands to our ecological, economic and social health.”

A three-quarter-mile walking track afforded a close look at the property at 3615 Oxford St., just west of Wayne Trace.

The property is extremely important to the neighborhoods surrounding McMillen Park because it is part of a carefully designed stormwater collection and filtering system. Water is collected and stored in a 1.7-million-gallon storage tank under McMillen Park six blocks west of the wetlands. From there it’s pumped to the wetlands where it bubbles through a manmade waterfall into a pond and then filters into another pond where it is released slowly into a pipe that takes it to the Maumee River several miles away.

Thanks to Fort Wayne’s congressional delegation, City Utilities received $2 million in federal grants to help fund the wetlands project in the early 2000s. Total cost, including the sewer separation in surrounding neighborhoods, came to nearly $20 million. In the process, a field that had been used for dumping was converted into a nature preserve that helps reduce flooding in area neighborhoods.

Native plants and trees were specifically planted to help clean stormwater from the neighborhoods. Among the plantings are prairie grasses, sedges and rushes. Flowers include aster, coneflower, gaillardia, daisy, poppy, primrose, black-eyed Susan and butterfly milkweed. Shagbark hickory, pin oak, red oak, cottonwood, ash and red maple abound in the preserve.

Camp Scott has become a favorite nesting place for owls, hawks, falcons, cedar waxwings, swallows, gray catbirds, eastern phoebe, red-winged blackbirds, indigo bunting, downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and flicker woodpeckers. It also provides habitat for great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers and the Indiana bat.

Prior to becoming an important nature preserve, Camp Scott had an interesting and colorful history.

During World War II the property, which is just south of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Midwest “hub,” was chosen by the U.S. Army to be the training site for men who would operate the Army’s railroads overseas. It was named for the first president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thomas A. Scott, who had organized and operated the first military railroad during the Civil War. Seven battalions of men were trained here between 1942 and 1944.

When the training facility closed in mid-1944 it took on a totally different appearance. By September, machine-gun towers and high barbed-wire fencing transformed it into a prisoner of war camp that housed 600 German soldiers. Most of them had served in Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps. They filled a manpower shortage in local industry and agriculture. Camp Scott closed six months after Germany surrendered and the prisoners were returned to Germany on Nov. 16, 1945.

After the war, the camp was considered as a site for housing for returning GIs. The barracks and mess hall were made into a temporary shelter by the local housing authority and residents paid $22.50 a month, excluding water and sewage. Camp Scott deteriorated over the years until 1977 when the last of the POW frame and tar paper buildings was demolished.

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