Marsh Madness

I hope Spring is here to stay!

It’s been crazy here on the home front.  Pati, my African Queen, left for Cape Town today and I’ve been cramming for my “day in court” on Friday.  Like Ian Anderson sang: “Nothing Is Easy”.

I’ll tell you what looks easy though: two experts driving forestry mowers cutting huge swaths of buckthorn in a couple hours, that would have taken, even The Buckthorn Man,  weeks to do with a brush cutter.


We had absolutely perfect conditions for DNR Facilities Repair Worker, Don Dane (that title doesn’t even begin to describe what Don does!) and Forestry/Wildlife Technician, Mike Spaight, to mow buckthorn at the Hartland Marsh.  This latest initiative at The Hartland Marsh, spearheaded by Kevin Thusius, property manager for the Ice Age Trail Alliance, manifested it’s first concrete result last week thanks to Paul Sandgren, Forest Superintendent Southern Unit – KMSF Lapham Peak & Glacial Drumlin Trail East, donating two full days of his best equipment and crew.  Thanks Paul!

Way back on February 27th I spent a few hours at The Marsh flagging a firebreak for the prescribed burning we hope to start in 2016.  How about this Oakitecture!

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Last week Thursday and Friday (March 5-6) , just before this blessed thaw, Don and Mike came out and hit the buckthorn hard.  They completed the firebreak, and some mowing on the uplands, on Thursday.

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And on Friday, they continued working the uplands all the way back to the hillside below the Gazebo on Cottownwood Avenue.

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I love those guys!


Back on Monday, March 2, I was joined by Andy Buchta and Ben Johnson as we cleared glossy buckthorn from the tamarack grove on the northwest side of the Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area.


Here is a panorama view taken from the middle of the fen.

Closing in around the tamaracks…

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… is a thicket of glossy buckthorn.

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It was a glorious day; our last of the season over there no doubt.

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Last Saturday, March 7, Andy and I continue clearing the buckthorn near the old marl factory wall.  Here is how it looked when I got there.

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I won’t get tired of saying it was a great day!

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We gutted the core of the last nasty buckthorn thicket on this wedge of land just west of the marl factory wall, and I think I can finish it off with one more day’s work.

I was pretty tuckered out when the sun went down.

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See you at The Springs!

The Fish Hatchery Springs

It was a heart warming week at The Springs both physically and emotionally.  Old Man Winter loosened his grip…


and, instead, I felt again the embrace of my loving soul mate, family and friends.

I might be his biggest fan, so the pleasure was all mine this past Monday when I helped Scott Finch harvest some black locust firewood for the cozy living room stove over his recording studio in Milwaukee’s hip, Riverwest, neighborhood.

I took a leisurely walk around the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail before Scott arrived,

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and was happy to take the call from my sister Cathy, “Heh, will you give us a tour of The Springs?”   We made a date for Tuesday and I finished my walk contemplating the fun we would have.

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While Scott, his buddy Mr. Snoodles, and I, loaded our trucks with firewood, Chris, Brian, Austin and Phil, from the Kettle Moraine Land Stewards, continued cutting and burning on the north side of the Buckthorn Alley.  Nice work!


On Tuesday I was very pleased to be joined on the trail by 5 of my 9 brothers and sisters (Cathy’s husband Tom, a 35+ year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service was there too, and took the picture of us shown below.)  I deflected their compliments by explaining that working out at The Springs is the only thing that is keeping me sane.  It’s the only time I get to win.  With my trusty chainsaw, and a razor sharp chain, I win the argument with Mr. Buckthorn every time.   I know — it’s pathetic.

I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did!  Below from left to right: Joe, Margret, Paul, Pete, Liz (in blue) and Cathy.


On Wednesday, I took care of business at home cleaning the house in preparation for the return of my loving mate, Pati Holman, from her second trip to Uruguay.  Meanwhile, Chris, Austin and Phil broke through the buckthorn thicket on the north side of the Buckthorn Alley to reach some massive red oaks.


Thursday, I returned to get some licks in myself, but first I had a sign to put up.


I mistakenly named this previously anonymous haven for birds and bees The Hatching House Springs, after Lindsay Knudsvig uncovered them by some intense brush, cattail and phragmites clearing.  When I saw this map that Ron Kurowski preserved, I realized that the Hatching House had actually been located much closer to the Hotel Springs.


Shortly thereafter, Jim Davee and Melaine Kapinos positioned the new signpost #9 in the correct location.

So… what to call this unique set of springs in the heart of the valley?


Ron suggested the Fish Hatchery Springs and Anne and James from the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit soon had the sign ready.  I brought out a 20lb bag of charcoal, and was even prepared to use my torch, but, like I said, Old Man Winter had loosened his grip, and I had no problem digging a hole for the post.


I took a minute to secure the 4′ deck we positioned where the Fish Hatchery Springs join the river, by toe nailing the deck onto its support beams.


By 10:00am I was repositioned north of the old barn site to work on the last stretch of buckthorn along Hwy 67 in the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve property.

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There was a nice brush pile left over from the last time we worked in this area and, as soon as it was lit, I commenced to cutting buckthorn.

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I think we’ll be able to finish this area with one more workday.

My sweetheart Pati came home on Friday and we took a very nice walk on the Ice Age Trail in the Loew Lake segment.  I must say, I feel pretty lucky to have had a heart warming week like that in the dead of winter.

See you at The Springs!

The Poison Paradigm

In a broadly defined sense a paradigm is : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind. I’ve been contemplating John J. Ewel’s definition of “restoration” all week trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance in my head regarding the use of poison to wage a “war on weeds”. We know how the “war on drugs” and the “war on poverty” turned out. Can we poison our way out of this invasive species mess? Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

My metaphor only works if you view invasive species as a kind of environmental poison. The work of The Creator was “altered”, by the White European invasive species, and now we confront the reality. Do we simply let nature run its course and allow a new equilibrium amongst the invasive and native plants to emerge? Or, do we intervene, as if in some kind of archaic revival, and try to “restore” an ideal?

Any gardener worth his/her salt has walked and knows every square foot of their vegetative domain and I aim to garden the Sand Prairie. I intervened at the square foot level the past two days deciding with my brush cutter emphatically that, NO, I won’t let nature run its course; these weeds must be stopped! My work at The Springs is like a castle made of sand so long as people believe we can address the invasive species issue with poison and assume that others, i.e. the government, or some crazed Don Quixote volunteer, is handling it. Nope, unless we have a raising of consciousness, and people prioritize the land and natural law over profits and war, we’ll be poisoning invasive plants forever.

I had the pleasure of meeting two consciousness raising educators and their group of 18 aspiring photographers at The Springs this past Tuesday morning. Listen to John Hallagan, 4rth grade teacher at Magee Elementary School and Pete “Laser” Nielsen, Biology teacher at Kettle Moraine High School, describe their awareness altering adventure.

I invite John and his students to post their Scuppernong Springs slide show right here, and I sincerely hope that I can persuade Pete to allow me to post his pictures of the Scuppernong Springs Hotel here as well.

My agenda on both Tuesday and Wednesday, July 23-24 was the same i.e., spray buckthorn and other invasive plants along the cut-off trail in the morning, and then brush cut weeds on the sand prairie.

Good Morning Springs!




I thoroughly enjoyed the day!


Check out this Blandings turtle catching some dinner below the marl pit bridge.

The north breezes began to wain as evening fell and the skeeters were thick around my bug net as I watched the sun go down at Ottawa Lake.



Wednesday was almost a carbon copy of Tuesday and I managed to cover almost the entire sand prairie whacking weeds as well as cherry, oak, hickory, buckthorn, honeysuckle and sumac brush. This is not what Ewel would call a “sustainable” restoration but, nevertheless, I do aspire to the sand prairie ideal.


I’m sorry to say that I hit and killed my first deer on the way home Wednesday night. I swear to god, I remarked to myself proudly, as I was getting in my truck to drive home, that I had never hit a deer!


See you at The Springs!

Buckthorn cut on the east end of the cut-off trail

Hi, welcome back to The Springs.


Serendipity is not only fun to say, it’s fun when it happens to you! I had a serendipitous experience last Friday when Pati and I were hiking off trail on the east side of Loew Lake. There are many, many stands of aspen clones in the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve and they tend to spread and dominate areas, thus we do want to keep them in check. The preferred control method is to girdle the trees and for this, you need the proper tool. I’ve heard and read that a sharpened truck spring is just the thing so it was a pleasant surprise when we stumbled upon an old rusting animal trap on a hill above Loew Lake that had the springs I needed. I sharpened up three of them with my angle grinder and tested one out at the springs yesterday. It is a little too early in the season and the bark is not quite ready to yield, but the tool performed admirably. I’ll keep testing to see when the trees are ready.


The last time out we were working at the site of the Scuppernong Spring House and I posted a short video of a gnarly old oak tree. I’m a forester wannabe at heart and on my way past the tree yesterday morning, heading to the work site, I noticed the hickory and cherry trees that were growing right up into the canopy of this classic oak; they had to go. With a tree this big it’s hard to capture the scene with pictures, but here is one before shot followed by two after.




Sunday, April 7th, we continued clearing the area between the cut-off trail and the Scuppernong River. The views from the trail south to the river and beyond are getting better and better. Looking across the river from the foundation of the old hotel you can see the thicket of buckthorn that we planned to cut.


The location.


Here is video tour of the work site before the cutting started.

Rich arrived with a heavy heart deeply concerned about his granddaughter who was born after only 24 weeks in the comfort of her mother’s womb. We hoped the hard work and fresh air would provide a respite for his worried mind.


Pati came out too and helped us pile brush after we were done cutting.



The view from the hotel site.



We really enjoy walking the trails after a hard days work savoring the fruits of our labors and imagining the results of the next step of the restoration. Here is a view from the hilltop we cleared last autumn just above the Hillside Springs.

Tired and happy Pati and I took in a beautiful, wine-soaked, sunset from the Indian Campground.






See you at The Springs!

Journey Down the Scuppernong River Part 2

We couldn’t have had a nicer day for the second leg of our Journey Down the Scuppernong River.  Spindrifts of fine white snow crystals swirled and danced.  The morning sky was mostly cloudy but the stiff breeze from the northwest promised to bring clearing and sunshine.  Pati and Lindsay were all geared up and, after consulting the maps one last time, we headed southwest, from where the river crosses Hwy N, to our destination at the dam on the south end of Upper Spring Lake.

The next couple videos provide nice panoramas of the Glacial Lake Scuppernong horizon.




Check out the Google Map included with post of the first leg of our journey to follow our course. Here we have come to the end of the long, straight, channel which began our route.

Below we are following the southern border of the Dempsey Farm Partnership.





The frozen wetlands made for easy hiking, but we did have to scramble through a dogwood and willow thicket or two.

That got us all warmed up.



I got confused and took us down a channel that went south instead of following the main river course; a detour of 1/2 mile or so.



We came to a beautiful old home site just east of Hwy Z.

Then, after a short lunch break, we arrived at Hwy Z.

The frozen river’s edge made for easy walking.



We emerge onto Upper Spring Lake.

The scenery was marvelous!


The dam at the end of the lake came into view.


We have heard a few complaints about the dam preventing fish from traveling up the river and now see what they mean.



The dam is on private property but we could not resist checking it out; fortunately, we did not get hassled. That completes the second leg of our journey!

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail on the way home to visit the origins of the river.  Here is the Emerald Spring.

The Hidden Spring.





We had a wonderful day exploring the river!



We hope to do our next leg of the journey in a couple weeks.

See you at the Springs!

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

We called ourselves the “River Rats”.  With our Blue Dolphin canoe loaded with a chainsaw, pruning saw, rake and garbage bags, we were determined to make the Bark River from Hartland to Lake Nagawicka navigable for canoes and litter free.  Mark Mamerow and I took many work trips down the Bark and, after 7 years, its a really nice paddle.  In his new book “The Bark River Chronicles – Stories from a Wisconsin Watershed”, Milton J. Bates describes our stretch of the Bark River in Chapter 5.  Mr. Bates tells the story of The Hartland Marsh in great detail and even mentions Pati and I.  Although he doesn’t mention Mark by name, he does comment on the great improvements to the river in this stretch since his last visit in the 1990s.  Thanks Mark! 


Check out About Paul for more info about the Hartland Marsh project.  Here is a map of the Bark River in the Hartland Marsh area.

That being said, it was great to connect with Mark again today as we burned 50 more piles at the Scuppernong Springs.  The morning was crisp and cold.


Just beyond the row of 12 brush piles you can see below is a remnant of a sedge meadow.


Our DNR friends Don and Amanda gave us a huge bag of seeds, with over 20 varieties suitable for a Wet Mesic Prairie setting, that we plan to sow in the area around the Indian Springs and in other locations.  The transition from Buckthorn thicket to natural prairie or wetland includes a lot of steps and burning the brush piles is one of my favorites.

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We lit another dozen piles farther down the outflow channel of the Indian Springs, closer to where it joins the Scuppernong River.

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The conditions were perfect so we moved to the West side of the Indian Campground Sand Dune and lit another bunch of piles.  By 11:00am we had 50 piles started and we began the mop up process.

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Snow started falling around 4:00pm and it was coming down pretty good by the time I left.  Since there wasn’t much of a sunset today, here is a great shot taken by Tighe House a couple weeks ago.

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See you at the Springs!

On the North Side

We started a new chapter in the Scuppernong River Nature Trail restoration effort today as we began cutting the Buckthorn on the North side of the River.  The area is scratched out in white on the map below.  Our goal is to reopen The Lost Trail that bisects the loop trail, which I highlighted in white below.  We want to clear the area between the trail and the River.


Mark Mamerow, who was assigned as my “buddy” almost 25 years ago when I started working at Northwestern Mutual, is still keeping an eye on me.  He piled brush all day and made a great contribution.  Rich Csavoy did some piling and cutting as well.  And last, but not least, Pati came out to help pile brush and clear the “Sawmill Springs”.

Mark cleaned up the area by the bridge over the River at the Hotel Springs.

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And After…

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My before pictures on the North side of the River did not turn out, but here are a couple.

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And after…

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Lindsay and I have noticed a Spring just North of signpost #12 so we’ll call it the “Sawmill Springs”.  We began clearing this one out today.

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And after…

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This still needs a bit of work.

We noticed this permit posted on the bridge over the Scuppernong River at signpost #5.  This is where the Water Flow Gauges will be installed.


In case you were wondering, the algae bloom we reported at the Hotel Springs has completed disappeared.

Mark, Pati and I enjoyed the sunset from the Indian Campground.

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Respect the Land

Today Rich and I continued cutting and piling on the hilltop where we left off last time.  During a break we discussed our mutual respect and admiration for the Native Americans, who nurtured the land and understood it’s mysteries.  When considering their impact on the earth, they planned ahead 7 generations.

Pati Holman and Jim Brown joined us in the afternoon and we got a lot done.  Thanks!

Here are a few before shots.





And after…





Later, our friend Andrea Goetzinger paid her first visit to the Springs.  She’ll be back for sure!

One of the reasons we are cutting the phragmites and cattails along the river is to take a close look at the land and identify where springs are flowing.  We recently found a new one by the bridge over the river near the Hotel Springs (see Map).  I took a few minutes at the end of the day today to open this one up.  I’ll get some better pictures next time.  There are a couple of really nice springs here.



It’s flowing freely now and there is a little waterfall that makes a pleasing gurgle.



There are more springs in this area yet to be revealed…

I hope to see you out at the Scuppernong Springs!




Every Pile You Make

The allure of the Hatching House Springs was irresistible, compelling us to pause our brush piling efforts for a couple days.  Today I picked up where we left off last time and finished piling at the Indian Springs.

There is a second, smaller, spring and channel next to the Indian Spring and I finally got around to cleaning the brush out of it.

The main Indian Spring outflow channel is on the right below and the spring shown above joins on the left side.

Looking back up towards the spring source.

Next, I went to the hilltop I cut back in October and, along with Pati, made a few more piles.  This is where we will resume this Saturday.

The last thing we did was clean the leaves out of the Scuppernong Spring and the Hillside Springs.  One of the four Hillside Springs has dried up!  I’ll get some pictures with morning light.

It’s another phragmites sunset.

I’ll be watch’in for you out at the Springs.