The Tibby Line

Storms clouded the skies and my mind as I arrived early September 11th at The Springs.




I was reminded of the fact that, although September 11, 2001 was a bright, sunny, day in the city, hurricane Erin, a category 3 hurricane, passed by just offshore as the towers disintegrated.

There is a lot we know — or choose not to know — about what really happened on 9/11. Don Rumsfeld explained the conundrum: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Now juxtapose that with the words of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” So long as the majority of people choose to remain ignorant, i.e. to not ask who, what, where and when, examine the facts and remove the contradictions, regarding the events of September 11, 2001, the crime of the century, we will continue down the path of endless war that we are on.

I found solace for my breaking heart and worried mind at The Springs yesterday. My first stop was the drainage ditch along the trail near signpost #1 in which a curtain of cattails had risen up to obstruct the view into the Scuppernong Prairie.

And after…



White turtlehead is a new plant for me (thanks for the ID John).


Water Smartweed (Polygonum amphibium). I found it in the meadow in front of signpost #1. Thanks to Amanda Prange for identifying it!


This great plains ladies-tresses is near the marl pit bridge.


On my way to the marl pit area I noticed that someone had made off with two of the original rails from the Dousman Marlboro & Southern railroad at signpost #2. Robert Duerwachter, the author of THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG, also wrote a fine history of this railroad called The Tibby Line, which you can find at the bookstore at the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest headquarters. John Hrobar noticed last week that one of the rails had been loosened and he suggested that I try to secure it before it got stolen. Sorry John. You can sum up all of Natural Law in one statement: Do Not Steal!

The area between the gaging station bridge #5 and the marl pit bridge #4 is another meadow that is being invaded by cattails, phragmities, purple loosestrife and reed canarygrass. Here is a look before I got after it with the hedge cutter.

And after…

Then I went to a cranberry bog along the cutoff trail to finish piling some buckthorn that I cut last spring. My to-do list is clear now and I’m looking forward to getting back to Buckthorn Alley. I had a little time at the end of the day to dig spotted knapweed on the sand prairie.

Relaxing at the marl pit bridge.




Another sweet sunset.










See you at The Springs!

Scuppernong Summer

Usually you’ll find me in the mountains this time of year, when they are gentle and uncrowded.  This year I’m looking forward to experiencing the waning days of summer right here at home — at the Scuppernong Springs.


I’m taking liberties at The Springs including attempting to transition the cattail and phragmities dominated marshes that border the river into wet meadows, which will encompass a wider diversity of flora and fauna.  The upper meadows (shown in blue below) are along the river valley upstream of the sawmill site #12 and the lower meadows (in red) are downstream from there to the gaging station bridge #5.


The upper meadows


It was a beautiful summer day at The Springs yesterday and I got started with a project that has been on my mind for some time i.e., re-girdling the black locust trees on the south end of the loop trail.  Some years ago the DNR hired a person to girdle the trees in this area and they did approximately 200 of them before committing suicide (he did not mention the black locust trees being a motivating factor in his last note).  Unlike this unhappy forester, many of the trees survived despite being deeply wounded.  I re-girdled around 40 trees and added a new girdle to another 20 or so.


There is a vernal pool inside the south end of the loop trail just below the trees shown in the beginning of the video above that was filling in with phragmities, reed canarygrass and Japanese knotweed and I spent some time with the hedge trimmer cutting the flowering seed heads from these invasive plants. Then I headed over to the west edge of the lower meadows at the gaging station bridge to cut some cattails. Below are before and after videos, and again, I was able to cut above most of the flowering heads of the aster, golden rod and joe pye weed.

I almost finished before the hedge trimmer jammed. Then I headed up to the south end of the sand prairie and dug out spotted knapweed for a couple hours and finally finished the day pulling Japanese knotweed on the hillside just south of the Indian Springs. It was a great day to stop and enjoy the sky, the breeze and the summer flowers that are approaching their peak color.


Another Scuppernong Sunset









See you at The Springs!

Scuppernong Springs Meadows

The valley along the Scuppernong River headwaters is starting to look more like a meadow and less like a marsh since we began working there in May, 2011. The marsh was screened by a curtain of buckthorn, willow, dogwood and black cherry, and dominated by cattails and phragmities in its interior. Thickly overgrown watercress damned the river causing it to overflow and saturate the valley. Aspen clones established themselves over the old hotel site and all the way up both sides of the river. Left unattended, this is what had evolved “naturally” since the hotel burned down in 1972 and the ponds were drained in 1992; a far cry from the state in which the Sauk, Ho Chunk and Potawatomi peoples maintained it, I’m sure.

Consider the mix of random and deterministic effects at play; the acts of man and the laws of nature. We homo sapiens (wise man) are in charge, capable of altering the course of nature, but deferring to nature’s laws for the outcome manifest. I’ve chosen, with a little help from my friends, to intervene in the course that nature had been set on by the random acts of man. We cut the brush around the perimeter, unplugged the river, cut the cattail and phragmites, girdled the aspen and burned the place.

Yesterday I finished cutting the cattail and phragmites seed heads in the river valley south of the old hotel site and the fruits of our labors can be seen in the Scuppernong Springs Meadows. I got a chance to literally walk across every square foot of the valley and see the amazing diversity of plants that have emerged and note the many, many small, unnamed springs and seeps that will keep this meadow on the wet side. I hope you get a chance to visit The Springs soon and see the wonderful displays of color in the wet meadow and sand prairie.

Here is the view of the last patch of phragmites.

And after I cut it (watch full screen if you want to see the butterflies).

Then I got after the cattail jungle north of the footbridge in the former lower pond.






Marlin Johnson, retired UW Waukesha biology teacher and currently resident manager at the UW Waukesha Field Station, warned that the cut ends of the cattail and phragmites can take root. I’ll be monitoring the results to verify.

Then I went to the sand prairie to continue pulling weeds, mostly spotted knapweed, this time armed with a little garden shovel to get the roots out. It’s going to take years to get rid of the weeds, but it’s starting to look pretty good.


I mentioned last time that I had named the Hatching House Springs, per their physical location which corresponded to #9 in the trail brochure map, and that I now know where the Old Hatching House actually was and the correct location of the Hatching House Springs. This video will help you place it.

I took a dip at the Marl pit bridge and practiced a bit of yoga and deep, conscious breathing, while enjoying the views.


Summer sunset at Ottawa Lake.







See you at The Springs!

Traditional Gardening

Your mind is garden soil; carefully fertilized and sown with the right seed it is capable of growing something beautiful. I just finished reading 1491, by Charles C. Mann, per recommendation of the “keeper of the springs”, John Hrobar. Its New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, chronicle the incredible legacies of the indigenous, native, peoples of the Americas north, central and south, in a way that, like a superb mulching legume, “fixed” the oxygen feeding my brain allowing new conceptions to take root. Thanks John (below on the left, in a literal sense only of course).


The earth was their garden and they worked the soil and landscape to suit their purposes, which, per a deep understanding of Natural Law, were typically in harmony with the Will of Nature’s God; The Creator. Those cultures that violated natural law, e.g. the non-aggression principle, eventually fell to the murderous onslaught of their “neighbors”. Cultures that recklessly harvested the earth’s bounty in the same rapacious way we often see around us today, i.e. coal river mountain, failed as well. Without a doubt however, the main decimators of the Native American populations were the infectious diseases that accompanied the pale faced European Invasive Species.

Politically, they reached their apex in the Five Nations confederation of the Haudenosaunee, of whom Cadwallader Colden, vice governor of New York and adoptee of the Mohawks said, they had “such absolute Notions of Liberty, that they allow of no Kind of Superiority of one over another, and banish all Servitude from their Territories.” This is the heirloom seed we need to sow and nurture in our brains!

The book helped me reconcile the fact that my work at The Springs is not sustainable. The restoration of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve, indeed, the whole Scuppernong River Habitat Area, will always need the hands of caring people to cultivate its natural beauty.

I spent a care-full day at The Springs last Friday pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie and trimming cattail and phragmities seed heads in the valley along the Scuppernong River headwaters.



Join me on a stroll through the sand prairie before we get started.

I’m encountering a lot of stubby spotted knapweed that I cut with the brush cutter back in July to prevent from going to seed. The scope of the invasion is thorough in some areas and will probably require hand to root combat with shovels and forks to defeat. It’s not sustainable, but I’m determined to give it my best effort; this is my garden.

Here is what the west side of the Scuppernong River, just across from the observation deck, looked like after I did a little pruning with my hedge cutter.

Later I took a walk around the loop trail to admire the new sign posts that correspond to the Scuppernong Springs Trail Brochure that Melanie, Tara and Jim finished installing last week. Nice work! It motivated me to take another look at Robert Duerwachter’s wonderful book THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG, and I noticed the real location of the Old Hatching House. I added a new blue #9 on the map below that conforms with the maps shown on pages 155-156 of Robert’s book (shown below) and conforms as well to the old foundation, infrastructure and spring physically at that location.


Ron Kurowski supplied these maps to Robert.



When Lindsay, Pati and I uncovered the springs that begin to flow right at the location corresponding to the old #9 on the map above, I thought, per the description in the trail brochure, that this was the site of the Old Hatching House, hence The Hatching House Springs. Here is a good look at the Old Hatching House site and the Real Hatching House Springs, which just began flowing again this past June. (I make an incorrect reference to the Emerald Spring at the end of the video.)

We’ll have to come up with another name for the set of springs that I previously referred to as The Hatching House Springs. Any suggestions?

A Scuppernong Summer Sunset.







See you at The Springs!

Meadow Springs

I’m riding a lymes roller coaster physically, mentally and emotionally frequently checking in with myself; how do I feel?  The doxycycline antibiotic helped with the more acute symptoms and now I’m working on next steps with Dr. Norm Schwartz and we’re seeking consultation from Dr. Robert Waters as well (see this interesting story about Dr. Waters for more on lymes and the insurance industry).  There is nothing like a day at The Springs to help me forget about it.

I was reminded yesterday of the wonderful opportunity we all have to nurture the land and, more specifically, how lucky I am to be realizing my vision for the landscape at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve and Trail.  This article from Wisconsin Trails includes a wonderful quote from John Muir that has inspired me ever since I first read it on a sign at the Hartland Marsh Ice Age Wetland trail head.

 A year before his death, John published “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth,” in which he wrote extensively of his time at the farm and his adventures there:

“Our beautiful lake, named Fountain Lake by father, but Muir’s Lake by the neighbors, is one of the many small glacier lakes that adorn the Wisconsin landscapes. It is fed by twenty or thirty meadow springs about half a mile long, half as wide, and surrounded by low finely-modeled hills dotted with oak and hickory, and meadows full of grasses and sedges and many beautiful orchids and ferns. First there is a zone of green, shining rushes, and just beyond the rushes a zone of white and orange water-lilies fifty or sixty feet wide forming a magnificent border. On bright days, when the lake was rippled by a breeze, the lilies and sun-spangles danced together in radiant beauty, and it became difficult to discriminate between them.”

The valley along the Scuppernong River headwaters is transitioning from a brush encircled, phragmities and cattail filled marsh, to an open, wet meadow, alive with grasses, rushes, sedges and flowers of all kinds.  Thanks to Lindsay Knudsvig for the many volunteer hours he contributed last year to making this happen.

I was at it again yesterday pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie and purple nightshade on the south end of the loop trail and using my hedge cutter to lop off the flowering tops of the cattails and phragmites.  In most cases the seed heads were just above the height of the flowers emerging from below so I was able to leave the later undisturbed.  Hopefully, I have my phenology right, and the phragmites and catails will not set seed again before the winter.

The Sand Prairie was lovely as I pulled spotted knapweed (pics and video courtesy of my iphone since I forgot the camera).



I started with the hedge cutter at the Scuppernong Spring, at the south end of the valley, and worked my way north on both sides of the river up to the spur trail that leads to the Hidden Spring, and then focused on the east side of the valley. I covered a lot more ground than I thought possible and that is really encouraging.

Last Saturday’s effort on the north end.


And yesterday’s work on the south end.


Its been a bumper year for mosquitoes at The Springs, in contrast to here in Milwaukee, where I don’t think I’ve seen more than a couple mosquitoes all season. It was cool enough to wear a pumori and I tucked the bug net inside, keeping hands pocketed as I watched another day ending.




See you at The Springs!

The Right Seed

I’m still absorbing the wonder-full wisdom Atina Diffley eloquently expressed in Turn Here Sweet Corn; I’m definitely going to have to read it again. She tells beautiful stories about miracles manifest in the life cycle of seeds, and the imperative of planting the right seeds. Every seed planted at Gardens of Eagan has a story and was planted with attention in just the right soil, location and time. Getting and preserving the right seed is an art, one that our good friend Rich Csavoy has been practicing while feeding his family from their organic garden for over 30 years.

I raised the question about how we wanted to approach reintroducing native sand prairie plants and now the importance of the seed we use is much clearer to me. Don Dane said they did not have any appropriate seeds gathered at the time and that only locally harvested seeds could be used. I’m looking forward to seed collecting adventures with Don and Amanda! In the meantime, we’ll let the native plants that are thriving on the sand prairie contribute their seed. We do need to review whether or not the native plants we currently find there are simply highly adaptable, opportunistic plants, from a different ecosystem, or, are they the right seed for a sand prairie. Any botanists out there?


My Lymes test came back positive showing active antibodies fighting a current borrelia burgdorferi invasion. I can feel it in my head and body and am pursuing a remedy in earnest. The sunshine, fresh air and water at The Springs provided some relief and I was chomp’in at the bit yesterday to try Don Dane’s idea to use a hedge cutter to remove the cattail and phragmites seed heads before they mature. After the ponds were drained, invasive cattails and phragmites began to dominate the valley along the Scuppernong River headwaters.

The hedge cutter was like a hot knife through butter and, just like when brush cutting the sand prairie, slowly “hedging” the valley gave me a perfect opportunity to look closely and carefully at the land. I’m encouraged by the variety of native plants, like joe pye weed, goldenrod and blue vervain trying to make it just below the canopy of cattail and phragmites; their blooming flowers will become very evident in the next few weeks.

Now, I just need to learn how to keep the hedge cutter sharp!

I’m looking forward to getting my truck back tomorrow and thank Pati for letting me use her Subaru Outback.

See you at The Springs!

The Sand Prairie

The Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail passes through prairies, woodlands and wetlands making it a great place to see a wide variety of flora and fauna. I’ve often referred to the Native American Campsite (#6 on the map) as, the “sand prairie”, without knowing what a sand prairie really is. Which begs the question, what exactly am I trying to restore? What does restoration mean?  Here is a summary from John J. Ewel’s “Restoration is the ultimate test of ecological theory” in: Restoration Ecology, A Synthetic Approach to Ecological Research,1987:

Is the reconstructed community capable of perpetuating itself, or, like agricultural ecosystems and golf courses, can it be sustained only if managed by people?
Does the reconstruction yield a community that resists invasions by new species?  Intact, natural communities are, in general, less easily invaded than ones that have been damaged or ones that lack one or more of their key species.
A restored community should be as productive as the original.
Nutrient retention
A reconstructed community that loses greater amounts of nutrients than the original is a defective imitation.
Biotic interactions
Reassembly of formerly associated plant populations often – but
not always – leads to reconstitution of the entire community. Animals and
microbes usually colonize spontaneously because of their mobility and ubiquity,

These are concrete, comprehensive, challenging goals that I’m taking to heart and mind.

Per Finley’s Vegetation of Wisconsin in the Mid-1800s map, this area was comprised of oak openings and prairies, of which we have one of the rare, “imperiled” varieties, i.e. a sand prairie, right here at The Springs.  Last year we spent a lot of time there clearing scruffy red oak and cherry trees that had survived earlier mowing and burning, and doing a lot of piling and burning of our own.   This year we are attacking the weeds and I asked Ron Kurowski (retired DNR Naturalist) to come out and help me identify plants and strategize.  Last Thursday, July 18, despite the heat and humidity, Ron was his ebullient self and we spent hours under the hot sun identifying plants; it was a blast!

The big blue stem by the marl pit canal responded very well to the burn.


Liatris, aka Blazing Star, on the sand prairie.


Swamp milkweed by the Indian Spring channel


Cord grass




Before Ron arrived, I did a little brush cutting and spring cleaning in the area of the Hotel Springs.

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5 springs emerge from the hillside near the stone half circle that frames the main Hotel Spring and they had gotten overgrown with brush and water cress.  I also cleaned out the springs by the old barn site and the new spring, that just started flowing again this year, by the huge willow stumps. Take a look!


One of my main ecological considerations, and axiomatic to reaching the goals set by Mr. Ewel above, is to limit, and ultimately completely stop, using poison on the land. The main valley along the headwaters, where all the springs are, is dominated by invasive cattails and phragmites. I recently tried spraying a patch of nearly 100% phragmites by the observation deck at the Emerald Spring with Habitat, and I thought it did not work. Now I think the jury is still out.

Is there an alternative to poisoning these plants that will enable other species to compete more effectively? There are a variety of shorter plants trying to make a living under the phragmites and cattails and they will loose out if their taller competitors are not burned frequently. I’m already talking to the DNR about burning next year and maybe we’ll try Lindsay’s idea and do smaller, targeted burns, like in the valley just mentioned.

I ran the brush cutter for a while after Ron left and sprayed buckthorn resprouts on the steep hillside by Hwy 67 before calling it a day.


After a bath and a little yoga at the marl pit bridge, I put my bug net on and enjoyed the sunset.






See you at The Springs!

Signs of Volunteers

The Springs are buzzing with excitement and I’m not just referring to the voraciously hungry mosquitoes. Last week many groups of children visited and yesterday the first class of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist program, run by the Wehr Nature Center, was here. The Law of Attraction is definitely at work at The Springs. Amanda, Melanie and their crew of volunteers were vibrating with energy as they converted their thoughts and emotions into actions installing a new set of signposts (that Don Dane made) to accompany the interpretive brochure.

Melanie and Tara digging the hole for post #3 at the marl pit factory.

They had to painstakingly pull out brick after brick from hole #4 by the marl pit bridge.





Here is the rest of the crew: Kay, Barb, Berta and Rich. Together they worked on at least 9 different signposts. Nice!

When I first arrived, I sprayed Habitat on some areas in the river valley where the phragmites and cattails were the only plants growing. I’m not going to spray anymore, anything in the river valley. In most of the valley a wide diversity of plants have emerged interspersed with the invasive ones. It would take a huge quantity of Habitat to spray the entire area and many good plants would likely be killed, not to mention the residue from the poison that would infiltrate the river. As Dana Carvey impersonating George H.W. Bush would say, “Na, Ga, Da”.

I finished girdling a clonal colony of aspen, the last I plan to do at The Springs this season, located on the east end of the cut-off trail in an area that was once cleared for farming. The views from this section of trail south towards the river will be stunning once the aspen and buckthorn are removed. There is still some buckthorn between the trail and river in this area and I plan to get after it soon.

In the afternoon I resumed brush piling on the west end of the cut-off trail. We feverishly cut and cut between the trail and the river during the early spring to lay down as much buckthorn as possible before the burn and I’m almost completely caught up piling it now. Here is a view of the area I was working at from the gaging station bridge.


And from the cut-off trail.


Here are a few scenes from the marl pit bridge.

And the marl factory.

Jill Hagen Smith, who participated in the Wisconsin Master Naturalist class, and who leads children’s nature outings at the Wehr Nature Center, was soaking her feet in cool spring water.



I wish I had known they were going to be there, I would have loved to talk to the group about our restoration efforts.

I made an early exit for home.


See you at The Springs!

Phragmites Update

Last year we began attacking the phragmites that was rapidly spreading in the Scuppernong River valley area around The Springs. It had grown thick and tall with year after year of accumulated stalks providing support for each new year’s growth. In one area we tried gathering handfuls, tying them, and clipping the bunches at around 24″ high and daubing the the cut ends with Habitat. This worked very well as you can see in the video below taken by the Hillside Springs. Unlike other areas of phragmites that were not treated, only cut and burned, we see very little regrowth here.

In this area by the Hidden Springs, we cut the phragmites in early summer and in mid-October Lindsay sprayed the fresh new growth with Habitat. Again, we see excellent results with little new growth after the fire.

The following videos show the area just to the west of the observation deck at the Emerald Springs and then the area adjacent to the deck on the south and east sides, where the phragmites was cut last summer and burned this spring, but not treated with Habitat. You can see it is coming back like gang-busters.

In the next month we will be spraying phragmites and cattails with Habitat, focusing on the areas where these two plants dominate. In areas with more plant species diversity, we will not spray and instead, we’ll use the bunching, clipping and daubing technique; or we may just cut it. The goal is to open a window of opportunity for native wetland plants to re-emerge.

I dared the threat of showers yesterday and got a full days work in at The Springs. I wonder what creature made these holes on the sand prairie.



I continued girdling aspen; this time on the north side of the scuppernong river just west of the old barn site. Per Robert Duerwachter’s excellent history, The Ponds of the Scuppernong, this area was cleared and planted in corn. The opportunistic aspen and buckthorn have since moved in and removing them will give room for oaks and hickory to return instead.

In the afternoon I continued piling brush finishing the area on the east end of the cut-off trail between the trail and the river. The forest floor here is lush with grasses, geraniums, columbine, may apple and other flowers.

The view from the hotel site.


Last spring I was scolded, for good reason, by a man who complained that I was cutting down all of the wild plum trees along with the buckthorn. I noticed the difference myself and have made a concerted effort to discriminate between the two. I’m hoping to enjoy some of these fruits by the gaging station bridge.



There are wild plum trees by the old barn site and along the loop trail heading north from there near the cranberry bogs.

See you at The Springs!

Down by the River

You never know who you’ll run into at the Springs.  This morning Kris Hinrichs, the outgoing director of the Lakefront Marathon, was taking pictures for her Project 365. We had a nice visit and compared notes on what was ailing our bodies.  I searched high and low on the various Project 365 websites and Facebook but could not find her photos.  Kris, if see this, please put a link to your Project 365 photo gallery in a comment to this post.

I took these pics on the way to get some drinking water for the day from the Scuppernong Spring.



The Hillside Springs.

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Rich Csavoy and Lindsay Knudsvig joined me and our agenda was to re-pile the phragmites that our religious friends piled back in July so that it would burn better and to finish piling all the brush along the river trail.

These phragmites piles are too spread out and would be hard to start when covered with snow.  This area is by the Hidden Springs.IMG_0158 IMG_0159 IMG_0160

And after…

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The observation deck area by the Emerald Springs.IMG_1013 IMG_0165


We almost finished piling all of the brush along the river trail.


Thanks Rich and Lindsay!  I hope to have an “about” Rich page added to the site soon.

After the work was done, Lindsay and I took some time to enjoy Mother Nature and we scouted out some areas where we plan to open up additional Springs.

Be on my side,
I’ll be on your side

See you at the Springs!