I Am the Buckthorn Man

Most people don’t see the buckthorn that dominates the understory of our forests here in southeastern Wisconsin. They don’t see it spreading to fill wetlands and abandoned pastures or understand the impact it is having; it’s just another tree — it’s “natural”. But, like the protagonist John Nada (John Nothing) in the great science fiction thriller They Live, I do see the environmental damage that buckthorn is doing.

I hope Willie Dixon doesn’t turn over in his grave when I sing “I am the Buckthorn Man” to the melody of his blues classic Back Door Man. It still sends chills down my spine when I hear him sing and recall the great shows he performed at SummerFest with Sugar Blue on the harp.

This past Wednesday I was working in the Buckthorn Alley and two women, along with kids and dogs, paused as they walked by and one of them exclaimed, “you’re the buckthorn man!” Yes, “Iiiiiiii aaaammmm the Buckthorn Man!

If you are, or want to become, a SuperFriend♥ of The Springs, or you just love The Springs, or you just want to help the Buckthorn Man celebrate his birthday, then come to our open house in Milwaukee on February 16th from 2-8:00pm.  If you have not already received an invite via email and want to come, please contact mePati is going to make some crazy good food and we’ll have beer and wine and a roaring buckthorn fire outside on the patio.  We hope to see you on the 16th!


I spent two excellent days this past week working at The Springs continuing my effort to open up views along the part of trail that I christened the Buckthorn Alley. The map below shows the progress made so far from the west (shown in black) and the east (shown in white) and the gap that remains. I roughly outlined wetland areas in blue that are filling in with brush (the Buckthorn Man will put a stop to that!)


This was the scene when I arrived on Wednesday morning.





I was gratified to see that Andy Buchta


had paid a visit and made 8 or so brush piles. Needless to say, this is hard work in the current conditions and I really appreciate Andy’s contribution.

I enjoyed a relaxing day and was not perturbed by any technical difficulties with the chainsaw. I experienced a curious, and seemingly contradictory mix of emotions, including deep calm and overflowing excitement. Here is how it looked at the end of the day.




Some classic perspectives of The Springs in the subdued early evening light.





Yesterday, Friday February 7th, I was back at it. It was a cold, bright sunny, morning and I stopped at the Hotel Springs to get some water.




I resumed where I left off on Wednesday and made a new fire in the same place as last time.





The views to the interior wetlands are beginning to open up! John, Sue and Tim stopped by to offer encouragement and John said they have seen 20+ robins playing in the springs just north of the Emerald Spring boardwalk. I had a fine day swinging the saw and got farther than expected.




Speaking of the Emerald Spring, some beautifully random organic patterns have emerged in the marl “dunes” at the river bottom.





Sunset at the Indian Campground.







See you at The Springs! And don’t forget the open house at our place on the 16th.

56 thoughts on “I Am the Buckthorn Man

  1. A reference to They Live and Willie Dixon in the same post, you never cease to amaze me Paul.

    Based on some recent ecosystem management studies (or what has become resilience based ecosystem stewardship studies) – The biomass that the buckthorn composes takes up a great deal of water, “green water”. So now that the buckthorn is being eliminated, more water should be stored in the ground, to be released through the springs, “blue water”. Will the river volume increase? Well, cutting the buckthorn alley down may not have a dramatic change on the Scuppernong River as a whole, but the small feeder spring that you recently uncovered may increase in volume and track it’s way to the main stream.

    $$$Value of a ecosystem services$$$

    The short term reward of maintaining a small natural reserve is the recreational value that the SSNT provides to the patrons that visit the property. The long term reward is the benefit given to an increasingly taxed groundwater supply. As we thank you, Paul, the buckthorn man, we must not only think of the immediate changes in the landscape that you have given us, but the distant gifts of fresh water for future generations.

    • Thanks for that interesting perspective Ben. I should mention that the water level of the Scuppernong River has ranged from .30 feet on 4/3/13 to .48 feet on 9/3/13 and is currently at .34 feet. So, given the data we have so far, it looks like there is a seasonal variation.

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