Imagining The Scuppernong River

Generation after generation of people lived and loved along the banks of the Scuppernong River.  They never imagined saw mills, cheese factories, trout farms or marl pits; instead, they imagined that the spring waters, diverse prairies and oak savannahs would continue to support them, their children, and their children’s children for generations to come.

When Chester W. Smith arrived in 1847 he imagined the power he could create harnessing the force of the river and he dammed it to make the Buttermilk Mill. His cultural background emphasized man’s mastery over the natural world; it was his oyster!

Talbot Dousman imagined a more sophisticated application of the water in 1874, and he bisected the Scuppernong River with embankments and flumes transforming the headwaters into a trout farm.

The marl works left scabs and a deep scar on the land, wounding and abusing the river during the years it was operated along its banks.

These “care”-takers of the land took more than they cared, leaving the headwaters of the river submerged; its natural course lost under ponds of water for 120 years.

In the early 1990’s DNR Naturalist, Ron Kurowski, and others, imagined the Scuppernong River the way it was before European settlement, and they began reversing the anthropogenic impact via the Scuppernong River Habitat Area restoration project.  What does it mean to imagine the river minus the reckless impacts of those who preceded us?  I think Dr. Megan A.  Styles, Ben Johnson‘s professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, expressed it quite eloquently in a recent email to him:

You’ve hit on a really important central theoretical tenet in restoration ecology — very rarely is the landscape “restored” to a precolonial state; it is actually constructed (notice there’s no “re-” here) anew in a manner that reflects (1) contemporary environmental values and (2) the ways that we “imagine” a truly wild and functional ecosystem should look like. I use the word “imagine” here not to suggest that it is not based in science (it certainly is!), but to remind us that there is a creative process afoot here as well. What we consider a desirable habitat will change over time in concert with changing values and new scientific discoveries.

Ben Heussner and the Wisconsin DNR Fisheries team imagine what a natural and healthy trout habitat should look like and they — one spring at a time, one bend at a time, one tributary at a time — have been reversing the anthropogenic effects on the Scuppernong River watershed for the last 20 years.  Recently they performed an elevation study of the Scuppernong Springs to get the data they needed to objectively support what was visually apparent.

ScuppernongSpringsElevationChange

On a recent visit to The Springs, Ben interpreted the results of the elevation survey and explained their plans for the headwaters:

From the Hotel Spring bridge (site 3 below) we walked upstream along the river bank discussing how the river bed would change as a result of the projected head-cut.  Heussner concluded that the scope of the plan, in addition to the work at the “perch” at the Hotel Spring bridge shown above at data point 1078, should include reducing the humps left after the removal of the embankments where the two bridges lead to the Hillside and Hidden Springs (sites 1 and 2 below), and the hump at the embankment where the mill pond was formed (site 4 below).  He is working now on the permitting process and targeting Spring, 2015, to implement the plan.

ScuppernongRiverElevationWorkSites

Then we walked downstream from the Hotel Spring bridge and inspected the results of the back filling we did last spring to compliment the bio-logs the DNR installed late last year (with help from Trout Unlimited), and imagined what it will look like when these areas fill in with vegetation.  The river is really ripping through this stretch now, creating a sandy, stony bottom and carving deep pools and cut banks; great trout habitat!  Ben is hoping that, with one more workday this December, they can finish the stream bank remediation effort all the way to the gaging station bridge.

Meanwhile, this year, after a long hiatus, the DNR has begun stocking trout again in the Scuppernong River watershed:

  • McKeawn Springs, 37 Brook Trout yearlings
  • Ottawa Lake, 1,485 Rainbow Trout yearlings
  • Paradise Spring Creek, 300 Brook Trout yearlings
  • Paradise Spring Pond, 200 Brook Trout yearlings
  • Scuppernong River at Hwy N, 148 Brook Trout yearlings
  • South Branch Scuppernong River, 74 Brook Trout yearlings.

We are constructing a new reality at the headwaters of the Scuppernong River that reflects: “contemporary environmental values”, and what “a truly wild and functional ecosystem should look like.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Last Thursday I resumed my efforts to prep the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve for the next prescribed burn by cutting buckthorn sprouts and seedlings with my brush cutter in the area around the old hotel site.  The new bench that Ben and Karen Johnson built is getting a lot of use!

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I noticed that the black locust removal effort has resumed in earnest.  This is dramatically changing the look of the northeast corner of the property.

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I also addressed an issue that DNR trail boss, Don Dane, pointed out a while back, and which Dan Carter reiterated on his recent visit, and that is the steep little short-cut trail that was getting “burned in” from the Hotel Spring bridge up to the Sand Prairie.  Here are before…

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… and after images.

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Ben Johnson joined me after work and we harvested some red oak logs that we planned to use to raise a boardwalk at the east end of the Buckthorn Alley.

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We cut up the downed tree on the left shown above and moved the logs over to the boardwalk with a hand dolly.

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On Friday I strapped on the brush cutter and did some “mowing” along the cut-off trail.  Although it looks like a carpet of buckthorn, there was a lot of wild strawberry and geranium actively growing at ground level and I was glad I wasn’t spraying herbicide.

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Later, I checked out the results of the latest hand-to-hand combat with the black locust.  I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the handiwork of Steve Tabat and his crew, although I have not seen them personally in action.

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On Sunday, Ben Johnson and I began an ambitious boardwalk raising effort.

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In a couple hours we had the deck torn apart.  You can see how it was embedded in the dirt.

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It took a while to get going and determine the best, complimentary, way to use our skills, but soon the new boardwalk was taking shape.

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It was fabulously busy and we were constantly interrupted by hikers; good thing Ben posted a couple of orange, “trail work ahead”, cones to warn them.

Did I mention that Ben is indefatigable?

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Thanks again Ben for leading this effort!

It was an epic week at The Springs and I hope to see you there soon!

8 thoughts on “Imagining The Scuppernong River

  1. Pingback: Kettle Moraine Land Stewards Coming To The Springs! | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

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  5. Pingback: SEWTU — Conserving, Protecting, and Restoring the Scuppernong River Watershed | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

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