Free the Scuppernong River

For thousands of years the Scuppernong River ran free, cutting its path across the bed of the old Glacial Lake Scuppernong per the laws of nature.

GlacialLakeScuppernong

In the 1870s Talbot Dousman established a trout hatchery at the headwaters of the river at the Scuppernong Springs, temporarily subjecting the river to the laws of man.  The trout farmers engineered the river with multiple levees, dams and flumes eventually leaving the headwaters submerged under two ponds.

FlumesOnTheScuppernongRiver

Scuppernong Ponds

I’ve been getting intimately familiar with the river, you might say, “getting in bed” with it, literally running my fingers through the muck searching for the original riverbed.  As I removed the planks that formed the flumes, I discovered that the river is bisected by 10 huge 6×8″ beams 16′ long.

IMG_3385 IMG_3386 IMG_3388

While the river was under the ponds, a lot of silt and marl migrated into the riverbed and, as we can see above, was trapped behind the beams.  This past Wednesday, Ben Johnson and I removed the first of these beams, the one shown above that points to the left, and we also removed more planks from the flume and other wood structures where the flumes began.

IMG_1363 IMG_1362

IMG_3406

Ben and I are very excited about giving mother nature a free hand to restore the natural riverbed in this area by removing the remaining 9 beams.  Free the Scuppernong River!

IMG_3407 IMG_3409 IMG_3410

Pati and I took a short vacation last week up at the Chippewa Flowage to relax and do some paddling and biking.  The area is beautiful and we looked forward to exploring it.  Pati found the excellent documentary below about how the flowage was created, and it was disturbing to see yet another case of the native tribes being steam rolled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  As we paddled different areas of the flowage, I kept thinking of how beautiful it must have been before the dam was put in, and the native way of life in the Chippewa River Valley was destroyed forever.

I was eager to get back to The Springs and on Monday, July 14, I spent the morning cutting weeds like Bouncing Bet (shown below), Nodding Thistle and Canadian Fleabane on the sand prairie.

IMG_3383

In the afternoon I got into the river and removed more of the planking that formed the flumes just below the Scuppernong Spring (see pictures above), and I discovered the 10, huge beams, bisecting the river.

Happily exhausted, I watched the sun set and imagined the river set free.

IMG_3392 IMG_3394 IMG_3398

On Wednesday, I “mowed” the trail from the area around the hotel spring, north up to signpost #13, and then, following the cut-off trail, to the marl pits.  I cut a lot of thistle that was about to go to seed and tons of white clover near the marl pits with my brush cutter, which is a lot more handy than a mower for stepping off the trail to get the nearby weeds.

In the afternoon, I cleaned up the area where I removed planks from the river.  Some of the oak planks are in relatively good shape and might make interesting components in some artwork.  I plan to revisit the stacks and reclaim some choice pieces.  You are welcome to do the same.  I asked Ben to bring his cordless reciprocating saw thinking we could cut notches in the beams to create gaps for the river to flow through.  That was a bad idea and Ben quickly concluded that we needed to dig the beams out.  It took the two of us over an hour to remove the beam shown in the picture above, but I think the process will go faster in the future now that we know what we are up against.

Yesterday I returned to The Springs to cut some buckthorn and pull spotted knapweed and found that Andy Buchta had completed piling all the brush near the parking lot on Hwy ZZ.  Thanks Andy!

IMG_3400 IMG_3401

I wanted to finish a strip of buckthorn that separated an area we opened up last Fall from the area near the parking lot that we cleared this Spring shown above.

IMG_3403

I had to deal with some technical difficulties with my stump sprayer and chainsaw, its been a while since I cut buckthorn, but I got it done.

IMG_3404

I spent the afternoon pulling knapweed on the sand prairie.  Although the knapweed is starting to flower, there is a window of opportunity to continue pulling it before it sets seed.  Assuming I won’t get it all pulled, I’ll use the brush cutter to mow the remainder (except for the areas dedicated to introducing weevils.)  The problem is that its impossible to cut the knapweed without also cutting the surrounding native plants, so I’m trying to pull as much as possible.  The good news is that I sent in my permit to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, which I got from Weed Busters, and I should be receiving my Cyphocleonus Achates knapweed root weevils soon.  We’ll get the Larinus Minutus Obtusis flower weevils next year (that is how they recommend doing it).

Steve (third from the left below), and his Ecology class from UW Madison, stopped on their tour to say hello as I was wrestling with the knapweed.  Did you take a drink of the marvelous spring water?

IMG_1365

It’s buggy as hell now at The Springs and my bug net is constantly at the ready.  So be prepared if you come out…

IMG_3413 IMG_3422

See you at The Springs!

6 thoughts on “Free the Scuppernong River

  1. That has to be the best feeling, to clear away some of those huge wooden beams that are obstructing the river! I’m curious about the history and why they were put there to begin with… It’s like saving a life to allow the river to run more free. Good luck with that project as you continue – be careful of your back as you work. I’ve been noticing mine lately, and I’m not even pulling beams! You’ve worked so many years; I think that’s great to discover a new opportunity to help restore the flow of the river. Your progress has been incredible, especially from an outsider’s view. I don’t get to see the daily struggles, just some of the beautiful results after all the hard work. Thanks! Cathy

  2. Pingback: Scuppernong River Survey | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

  3. Pingback: Friendberry Jam | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s