Phragmites Invades the Springs

The headwaters of the Scuppernong River are the series of springs that line the hillsides along the main valley/channel where the river begins to flow.  Back in the early 1900’s entrepreneurs dammed the river and created a trout farm.  This significantly disrupted the normal course of the river and flooded the little plain through which the river flowed.  After the man-made dam was removed, beavers moved in and created one of their own, which helped keep the area flooded.  This provided a perfect environment for Phragmites, a large perennial grass, to become established.

A few years back (I’ll have to get the exact date) the DNR removed the beaver, drained the valley, and executed a major project to restore the Scuppernong River to it’s original banks.  But by this time, the many feeder springs coming off the hillsides had become choked with water cress and much of their flow was diverted into the expanding fields of Phragmites that line the river valley.  The root system of the Phragmites is amazing with hollow tubes 1/2″ in diameter drawing water from the springs and river into it’s system.  It creates a mono-culture effectively choking out all competitors, except cattails, which are also and issue at the Springs.

We have begun attacking the Phragmites using two strategies.  We are going to try a small test plot where we grab handfuls of mature plants and cut them off a foot or two from the ground and then daub the fresh cut ends with eco-imazapyr.  Alternately we are brush cutting the Phragmites now and plan to spray the new regrowth with eco-imazapyr sometime in September.  Like the water cress that built up over many years to form virtual dams in the river, the Phragmites stands are comprised of many years growth.  The reeds are very robust and can remain standing for years.  Thus the first pass through these areas with the brush cutters will be tough.  The grass is over 16′ tall and very thick.  Below are some pictures of our brush cutting efforts.  We hope that the combination of clearing the springs and river of water cress, which has lowered the water table in the valley by 6-8″, cutting and poisoning the Phragmites and, nature’s contribution of a hot, dry summer, will put a serious hurt on this invasive plant.

Back in the depression years, the Wisconsin Conservation Corps built a trail system with boardwalks leading to all the major spring locations along the river.  We have cleared many of these paths.  There are at least 2-3 springs at the end of this boardwalk shown above which have become completely overgrown with Phragmites and water cress.  The river is 40 yards to the right and none of the outflow of these springs is making it there, it all feeds this huge patch of Phragmites.  The spring below is right off the end of the boardwalk shown above.   We plan to open up these springs and dig or clear a channel for them to flow directly into the river.

Below are shots after the second pass through this area with the brush cutter.  You can see the clearing around the observation deck in the distance.

Below are some shots taken around the observation deck that overlooks a huge and beautiful set of springs.  The former shop manager at the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest headquarters referred to this spot as “the Little Yellowstone”.  The shot below is taken from the trail above at the Indian Campground.

There are 4-5 major patches of Phragmites in the valley and we intend to get them all cut in the next few weeks, except for our test patch, which we will poison by hand later in the season.

One thought on “Phragmites Invades the Springs

  1. Pingback: Another Spring Opened Up | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

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