The Ruby Spring

Melanie’s brow furrowed focusing energy from her third eye as she studied the weather beaten old sign she found in a closet at the DNR maintenance shop.  It was done in the style of the signs at the Scuppernong Springs that she replaced last year with her volunteer trail crew and it read: The Ruby Spring.  “Hmmmm…” she thought, “I’ll bet The Buckthorn Man knows where The Ruby Spring is.”

There are stories behind each of the springs you’ll find along the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and I invite you to share yours on our new Facebook Page.   You may have grown up with The Springs like Pete Nielsen or Steve Brasch, or you’ve been coming for a long time, like John and Sue, or Dick and Shirley, or Terry and Lisa.  Share your favorite memories and pictures of The Springs on our Facebook timeline.

“Ruby Spring”, “Ruby Spring”, I thought “…is this in the Land of OZ?”  Melanie and I made a date to meet with Ron Kurowski, at the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association‘s annual meeting, to learn the story of this spring.  The amphitheater at Forest Headquarters was alive with many excited faces and voices when I arrived.

Ben Johnson and Zach Kastern.

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Ron Kurowski, retired DNR naturalist, and Chris Mann, owner of Kettle Moraine Land Stewards LLC.

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My spiritual father, Mike Fort.

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Don Reed, Chief Biologist with the SEWRPC, making opening remarks.

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Ron Kurowski and Paul Sandgren, Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit drawing lucky numbers.

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Matt Zine, a conservation biologist and longtime leader of the State Natural Areas crew in southern Wisconsin, took us for a walk down memory lane, or rather, through an oak savannah landscape, as he explained what God and Man have wrought to put us in the state we are today, and why it is important to understand and take action.   Thanks for the great presentation Matt!

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It was a pleasure to meet Dan Carter, a member of SEWRC’s environmental planning staff after Matt’s presentation.  Ben Johnson joined us and that led to the parking lot, where Dan identified the seed/spore heads of a fern that Ben and Karen found in the wet prairie just west of the Indian Spring.  Just then, DNR trail boss, Don Dane, arrived to take me into the inner sanctum of the maintenance facilities to pick up two huge seed bags: one with a dry mesic prairie mix, and the other with a wet prairie mix.  Thanks again to Don Dane and Amanda Prange for organizing and leading the seed gathering volunteer workdays!

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After Don left, Ben and I wondered if we needed to wet the seed or mix it with anything prior to sowing.  I couldn’t reach Don, who was already engaged on a project with the Ice Age Trail Alliance, so we headed back to the amphitheater to get some expert advice.  I invited Melanie to join us and we found Ron busy in a back office.  He explained that we could just sow the seed as is, and we talked about lightly raking afterwards, and then Ron shared the secret of The Ruby Spring.

After THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG were drained in the early nineties, the DNR began the slow process of rehabilitating the Scuppernong River stream bed, which had been submerged under 3-5 feet of water for over 100 years and was thus thoroughly silted in with marl.  It was quickly apparent that they needed to name the springs to facilitate planning, meeting and, bringing them to life in the mind’s eye.

In the middle of the valley left when the upper pond was drained, they found the largest complex of springs on the property.  A red algae made its home there giving the waters a distinct ruby color, hence the name: The Ruby Spring.  As the restoration work progressed and the environment changed, the red algae disappeared and the bubbling spring pools located at the end of the observation deck took on an emerald hue, and were rechristened The Emerald Springs.  The names evoke ruby slippers and emerald cities for me.

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Ben and I headed straight for the sand prairie, aka, the Indian Campground, and began sowing the dry mesic prairie seed at the intersection of the main trail with the spur trail that leads down to the Indian Spring.  This is an area where we dug out a lot of spotted knapweed last year and the soil is bare.

The plant below has heretofore escaped my identification skills.  I suspected it was an invasive plant, but which one?  Ben suggested we send a picture to Dan Carter.

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Dan responded quickly that it was motherwort and advised us not to worry too much about it because it will give way to native plants as we introduce them or they re-emerge.  It’s not fair to characterize this plant as a weed, which, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, is: “A plant whose virtues have never been discovered”, given its long history of use as an herb.

We had enough seed to cover a huge area of the sand prairie and it will be exciting to watch the results develop.

Upland/Dry seeds:
Prairie dropseed
Sand dropseed
Rough Blazingstar
Wild rose
Boneset
Prairie smoke

Wet/Prairie mix:
Prairie blazingstar
Brown-eyed susans
Bottle gentian
Blue valarian
Swamp sunflower
Cord grass
Little bluestem
Big bluestem
Compass plant
Prairie dock
Indian plantain

After our labors were done, we went for a walk intending to explore the trail south along the marl pit.  Along the way we met Jill Bedford, who works with the Tall Pines Conservancy, and switched gears to give her the grand tour of The Springs.  Jill is involved in writing grants to conserve and restore land and it was exciting to hear of all the developments in her world.  We got up to the sand prairie just in time to watch the sunset.

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My weekend at The Springs was only half over and I returned on Sunday to sow the wet prairie seeds in the many, many burn rings left from our work in the Buckthorn Alley and the Cut-off Trail.

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After the last seeds were sown, I returned to the cabin at Ottawa Lake, where Dick Jenks and I cut buckthorn last week, to “mop up” with my brush cutter.

I tried using a little sponge to daub poison on the little buckthorn stubs and it worked pretty well; a lot less waste than if I would have used a sprayer.  The view from the deck is really nice.

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See you at The Springs!

 

 

 

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