Super Friends of the Scuppernong Springs

2013 was a fantastic year at The Springs. Here are highlights from the perspective of all the Super Friends♥ of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. We don’t have a normal friends group; no, we have Super Friends♥

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January

scuppernong nature trail(photo by Tighe House)

We burned a lot of brush piles on the south side of the Indian Spring and all across the Indian Campground, aka, the Sand Prairie.  My old friend from “The Quiet Company”, Mark Mamerow, was a big help.

The USGS installed a ground water flow meter at what I now call the “gaging station” bridge and Rich Csavoy and Lindsay Knudsvig were very active helping burn 173 brush piles.

Lindsay, Rich and I cut and piled buckthorn between the cut-off trail and river.  DNR trail boss, and jack-of-all-trades, Don Dane, provided native flower and grass seeds that we sowed near the Indian Spring.

Lindsay, Pati and I began our Journey Down the Scuppernong River in an effort to become more intimately familiar with the Scuppernong River Habitat Area.

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February

We continued exploring the Scuppernong River hiking the frozen, snow covered, banks from Hwy N all the way to Hwy 59.

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The powers that be relented and I got a window of opportunity to burn the brush piles I had left behind at the Hartland Marsh.  I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends from the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Pat Witkowski, Mike Fort, John Mesching, Marlin Johnson, Glenn Ritz, Jack, Dick and the maintenance crew from the Village of Hartland.  We lit over 300 piles during the month on many workdays.

Carl Baumann and Rich Csavoy helped cut buckthorn between the cut-off trail and the river.  I hope to work with these righteous dudes again soon!

Steve Brasch, Carl, Lindsay and I had a couple of brush pile burning adventures and Lindsay showed me the value of having a leaf blower handy to ignite a smoldering pile.

Pati and I continued our investigation of the Scuppernong River watershed following the outflow from McKeawn Spring to the river on a gorgeously warm winter day.

One of the most memorable days of the year was with the DNR Fisheries team of Ben “Benny” Heussner, Steve “Gos” Gospodarek, Andrew Notbohm and Josh Krall (right to left below, “Double D” Don Dane kneeing in front) as they reviewed their past efforts to rehabilitate the river and formed plans for the coming year.  They made good on their promise returning for two workdays on the river, most recently with a crew from the South Eastern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group.

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March

Pati, and I and Lindsay continued our Journey Down the Scuppernong River hiking from Hwy 59 to Hwy 106.  We attempted the last leg from Hwy 106 to where the Scuppernong River joins the Bark River south of Hebron, but we were foiled by melting ice.

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I continued clearing brush between the cut-off trail and the river and was glad to have the help of Boy Scout Troop 131, from Fort Atkinson to help pile it up.

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Lindsay and I were honored to jointly receive the Land Steward of the Year Award from the Oak Savanna Alliance for our work at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  I continued investigating the Scuppernong River watershed hiking the Paradise Springs Creek from it’s source to it’s confluence with the river.

Steve, Lindsay, myself and Carl had a classic brush pile burning day in the area around the Scuppernong Spring and shared a few cold brews afterwards.

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I began volunteering with Jared Urban and the DNR’s Endangered Resources team and met great people like Virginia Coburn, Zach Kastern and Herb Sharpless.

Dave Hoffman and Matt Zine secured a $75,000 NAWCA grant for the DNR to continue the work on the Scuppernong River Habitat Area that Ron Kurowski had championed for over 20 years.

April

We began clearing brush in the area around the Old Hotel and Barn sites near the Hotel Springs.  Rich Csavoy, Pati and I continued to clear the brush between the cut-off trail and the river; this time on the far east end.

John and Sue Hrobar (shown with Don Dane below), the “Keepers of the Springs”, began to report that they were not seeing as many brook trout as they had in previous years and attributed this to our removing too much water cress the previous spring.  Indeed, Ben Heussner had warned us that the trout relied on this invasive plant for food (bugs) and cover.

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DNR wunderkind, Amanda Prange, her boyfriend Justin, his mother Beth, Roberta “Berta” Roy-Montgomery and DNR Ranger Elias Wilson (who would save my life 3 weeks later!) joined me for a day installing prothonotary warbler houses and piling brush.

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Rich, Berta and I began girdling aspen.  This was new for me and now I realize we were a bit early.

Rich and I began spraying weeds like garlic mustard and spotted knapweed.  I started having misgivings about using poisons in this delicate ecosystem.

I began working in the Buckthorn Alley.

Pati, Lindsay and I made the final leg of Journey Down the Scuppernong River via canoe and were sorely disappointed to contrast this stretch of the river to those preceding.

Jon Bradley contributed an excellent photo essay to this blog.

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May

I began the month girdling aspen and working in the Buckthorn Alley.

The most exciting day of the year was when the DNR burned the Scuppernong.  It was memorable in every way but it almost began disastrously.  I was using a drip torch for the first time and it was leaking fuel badly from the rim of the cap.  DNR Ranger Elias Wilson noticed the danger immediately and calmly said: “Put the torch down Paul.”  Again, he repeated, with a little more emphasis: “Paul, put the torch down.”  Finally, I came to my senses and realized the danger too.  Thanks Elias, you saved my life!

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This is probably a good place to thank Paul Sandgren, Superintendent of the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Assistant Superintendent Anne Korman, Don Dane, Amanda Prange, Melanie Kapinos and all of the DNR staff, including retired naturalist, Ron Kurowski and the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association for all of their help and support.

Within a few weeks, flowers and grasses were emerging from the blackened earth and I kept busy girdling aspen along the river valley and piling brush from the Old Hotel site north to where the trail turns west away from Hwy 67.  Garret and Jenny interrupted their studies to help me pile brush and I hope to see them again sometime.

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Spring was in full bloom and Rich helped me girdle aspen and pile brush between the cut-off trail and the river.  Ticks and mosquitoes where out in force and I got infected with lymes.

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June

Amanda, Tara Fignar and Melanie pictured below, along with others including Jim Davee, Kay, Barb, Berta and Rich (see this blog) replaced all of the signposts that accompany the interpretive guide.  Don Dane made the new posts.

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Jon Bradley built and installed this swallow house near the marl pit bridge and we are looking forward to the new tenants moving in this spring.

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I continued volunteering with Jared Urban’s Endangered Resources team in Oak woodlands around Bald Bluff.  Jared, Zach and Gary are great teachers!

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Jon Bradley contributed another excellent photo essay.

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I sprayed Habitat/imazapyr on phragmites near the Emerald Spring and no life has returned there — maybe this spring.  I suspected it would be the last time I used this poison.  I switched strategies and began cutting invasive plant seed heads with a hedge trimmer, or I cut the entire plant with a brush cutter.

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My lymes infection kicked into gear and I had a few miserable days.

July

Ben Heussner and the DNR Fisheries team returned to the Scuppernong River to lay down some bio-logs continuing their effort to improve the river channel.

I spent a few days working at the Hartland Marsh brush cutting along the boardwalks and mowing the trails.

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I was still spraying poisons like Transline and Milestone on various invasive plants at The Springs and it bothered me. I cut a ton of huge, flowering, spotted knapweed plants with the brush cutter to prevent them from going to seed and also started digging them out.

Pati, Lindsay and I were very disconcerted when we completed out Journey Down the Scuppernong River in the Prince’s Point Wildlife Area and I followed up and got a guided tour from DNR veterans Charlie Kilian, the recently retired property manager, and Bret Owsley to better understand what was going on.

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Ron Kurowski, retired DNR Naturalist and champion of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area restoration effort, met me at The Springs and helped me identify what was growing on the Sand Prairie and in other parts of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve.

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I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the idea of spraying poison on weeds ad infinitum and began looking for alternatives.  Late in the month I met Jason Dare, the real deal when it comes to ecosystem management, at The Springs.  He was doing an invasive plant survey for the DNR and I became painfully aware that I didn’t know what I was doing vis-a-vis spraying invasive plants with poison in that delicate ecosystem.

August

The Buddha said : “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  It was Atina Diffley’s award winning memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn that finally opened my eyes and raised my organic consciousness.

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I’m done spraying toxic poisons at The Springs, except for on freshly cut buckthorn, honey suckle and black locust stumps.

Ben Heussner had warned that our aggressive removal of water cress from the river in the spring of 2012 might impact the brook trout and John and Sue Hrobar observed that, indeed, they were seeing far fewer fish than in previous years.  We finally got some objective data when Craig Helker and his DNR team of water resources specialists, performed their annual fish count.  It was a fascinating day!  Below: Craig, me, Chelsea, Rachel, Shelly and Adam.

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The fish counts were down significantly this year and I don’t doubt that it was a result of our removal of too much cover and food source from the river.  At the time we pulled the water cress, it had formed thick mats that damned the water flow raising the water table along the river by at least 6 inches.  I thought it was important to help re-establish the river channel, and the flora in the valley, to remove the water cress dams.  Until we can establish a native water plant, like Chara, which is in fact making a comeback, to replace the invasive water cress, we will allow the cress to thrive short of damning the river again.

I began attacking the phragmites and cattail that dominate the river valley with a hedge cutter loping off the maturing seed heads and leaving the emerging golden rod and asters undisturbed beneath them.

September

I learned to adjust my efforts to the plant life cycles and spent a lot of time pulling weeds by hand including: Canada Fleabane, American Burnweed (shown below), Common Ragweed , Queen Anne’s Lace  and Sweet Clover.

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I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew attempting to eradicate invasive weeds at The Springs without using poison.  I take heart when I consider all of the Super Friends♥ that are willing to help.  Sue Hrobar captured this ambitious water snake and it inspires me to keep trying!

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I’m getting more philosophical these days and thank my friends Mike and Yvonne Fort for their inspirational efforts at Lapham Peak State Park.

I began pulling Japanese knotweed and purple nightshade as well as all of the other aforementioned weeds and it almost seemed like the whole nature preserve was just a big weed patch.

Pati and I usually go camping in the mountains in September and she couldn’t make it this year so I decided to camp at Ottawa Lake and see what that was like.  The two walk-in sites #334 & #335 adjoin the Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area.  Lindsay and his wife Connie and Pati joined me for my first evening at site #335 and we agreed that the wall of buckthorn on the hillside between the campsites and fen simply had to go.  I divided my time over the next two weeks between working near the campsites and at The Springs.

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October

I began cutting buckthorn on a stretch of trail at The Springs that I christened the Buckthorn Tunnel.

The task of weeding the Sand Prairie is daunting to say the least and I’m glad to have the help of Jim Davee, Pati and Tara Fignar.  I know we can stop the spotted knapweed from going to seed and then it’s just a question of carefully digging out the plants.

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Lindsay informed me that there is a weevil that attacks only spotted knapweed and I’m considering if we should try to introduce it at The Springs.  That reminds me that we need to reintroduce more Purple Loosestrife beetles, as we had a bumper crop of this invasive plant in 2013.

Anne Moretti, Jim Davee and Tara Fignar helped me pile the buckthorn I had cut in the Buckthorn Tunnel.  I really appreciated their companionship and contribution.

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The fall colors where just starting to emerge by the end of the month.

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November

The Fall season lingered long and colorful.

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I spent another week camping at Ottawa Lake and continued cutting buckthorn and thinning American Hop Hornbeam near sites #334 and #335.

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I began opening up a new area on the northeast end of the loop trail where it passes by an old cranberry bog; at signpost #13, the junction with the cut-off trail.  And I continued piling the freshly cut brush along the Buckthorn Tunnel.

Jon Bradley contributed another post-full of beautiful and interesting photos.  If you would like to contribute photos or stories to this blog, please let me know.

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I spent 3 days piling the brush cut near campsites #334 & #335.  I separated the good logs, suitable for firewood, from the brush and plan to return this spring to cut the logs into smaller pieces.

Lindsay took a full-time position at UW Madison and Rich focused on his beautiful grandchildren, awesome garden and classic pottery, but the Three Brushcuteers reunited for a day piling the brush I cut near the cranberry bogs mentioned above.  It was sweet to spend time with them again working in the forest.

Ben Johnson and Andy Buchta joined forces with me to pile brush right at the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ.  They are both hard-working men and I truly appreciate their contributions.  Both Ben and Andy have returned numerous times since then and I really enjoy working with them!

Towards the end of the month, master naturalist Dick Jenks began volunteering as well, doing everything from cutting, to piling, to burning brush piles.  Dick, Ben, Andy and Jim all have great ideas and are very observant.  I’m really benefiting from their experiences and perspectives.

Conditions were borderline, but we succeeding in lighting up all the brush piles we recently made in the Buckthorn Tunnel.

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December

After more than 6 months delay, while we focused on other areas of The Springs, we finally got back to the obscenely grotesque and nasty Buckthorn Alley.  You will not find a worse thicket of buckthorn anywhere on the planet.  With the help of Dick Jenks, Ben Johnson, Andy Buchta, Jim Davee and Pati, I was eager to “get after it”!

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Everyone agreed we should separate the wood suitable for campfires at Ottawa lake from the slash and we have many log piles that we plan to prep using Dick’s custom sawbuck.  We’ll put some information fliers at the visitor’s center across Hwy ZZ and in the trail brochure box offering the wood to campers on a donation basis.  With the 25 mile limit on transporting firewood scheduled to kick in this season, we expect campers will take advantage of the buckthorn firewood.

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The snow cover was perfect for burning brush piles, and I took advantage of it burning all of the piles we had made the past year between the river and the cut-off trail.

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Dick Jenks with his sawbuck.

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We had a perfect day burning brush piles along Hwy 67.

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I took advantage of another fine day and lit up all the brush piles remaining along the main trail.

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John and Sue Hrobar informed me that Ben Heussner and the Fisheries team, along with the South Eastern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group, had executed another workday on the river on December 14.  Check out their excellent results here and here.

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Ben Johnson (shown below) got his first licks in with a chainsaw in the Buckthorn Alley.  And Jim Davee came out to pile brush there too.

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The year ended for me with a “Big Bang“, that, given my evolution of consciousness documented in these posts over the last year, should not be too surprising.

I worked with Zach Kastern on numerous occasions over the past year and so I was really excited when he made time in his very busy life to come out and help cut some buckthorn.  I hold him in high esteem!  Here is the “blue V” we used as our target to open a channel through the buckthorn connecting the trail to the remnant of a cranberry bog.

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Thanks to Ben Johnson for inspiring me to put together this year-in-review.  And THANKS to all the Super Friends♥ who pitched in to help reveal the beauty of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.

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See you at The Springs!

17 thoughts on “Super Friends of the Scuppernong Springs

  1. This has been an incredible year and your review makes it a lasting and memorable one. Because of your tireless efforts, many people have come together for an extremely worthwhile project. This is a project for the decades and hopefully it will be a legacy that continues beyond our lives. Thank you my friend. My heart soars out there.

  2. Awesome recap. It’s sort of like in A Sand County Almanac, each month means a new task and new relationships between plant, animal and man. I look forward to meeting more of the super friends in this new year.

  3. Hi Paul:

    Just wondering if you need any help this coming weekend. I actually have some free time.

    thanks

    Steve Brasch 262.844.5197

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