SEWTU — Conserving, Protecting, and Restoring the Scuppernong River Watershed

I don’t fish.  My rights under natural law do not extend to harming any sentient creature, except in the case of self defense.  I’m still troubled by the memory of the beautiful adult river otter I ran over with my truck and trailer, while passing a slow driver on the way to Lake Owen this past summer.  I was the unconscious one.


I know, I’m in the minority, and you might wonder why I would introduce an article about the great work the Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited organization has been doing for almost 50 years by reflecting on the nature of fishing.  I’m just being honest.  I love fish, especially brook trout, and recognize that the Scuppernong River is potentially an ideal place for “brookies” to live long and happy lives; that is why I am putting my energy into rehabilitating the headwaters of the Scuppernong River at The Springs.


The art of fly fishing is a classic solitary pursuit.


But fishermen/women have long recognized that they need to work together to effectively conserve, protect and restore our fisheries; hence the formation of organizations like Trout Unlimited.


TU’s guiding principles are:

From the beginning, TU was guided by the principle that if we “take care of the fish, then the fishing will take care of itself.” And that principle was grounded in science. “One of our most important objectives is to develop programs and recommendations based on the very best information and thinking available,” said TU’s first president, Dr. Casey E. Westell Jr. “In all matters of trout management, we want to know that we are substantially correct, both morally and biologically.”

The Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of TU (SEWTU) was formed in the late 1960s and, after working with them this past Saturday on the Scuppernong River, I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment expressed on their website:

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better bunch of individuals than those who comprise the rank and file of SEWTU.  Friendly faces, kind words, and good fishing stories — some are even occasionally true — welcome all comers.

Since 2006, SEWTU has done many projects in the Scuppernong River Watershed, mostly on Paradise Springs Creek and the headwaters of the Scuppernong River.  For example, on a cold winter day in 2008 they installed bio-logs just upstream from the Emerald Springs overlook deck and closed off the marl pit canal from the river.  They did two projects on the river in 2013, installing bio-logs in the stretch between the old barn site and gaging station bridge (scroll down in these posts to view the work they did in December 2013.)

I really regretted not being on-site for the 2013 SEWTU Scuppernong River workdays.  My excuse is the reference in their email notifications to the Scuppernong Creek (you may notice this on their website(s) as well), that confused me.  Thanks to Ben Heussner for giving me a heads up this time.  It was a pleasure to work with SEWTU members on December 6th installing bio-logs just upstream from the gaging station bridge.  It was a very successful workday that completed the channel remediation efforts from the old barn site downstream to the gaging station bridge (with one caveat that we’ll get to below when we interview Larry Wirth.)

The day started when Pati and I met the Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Technicians, Joshua Krall and Ryen Kleiser, at the DNR parking area above the Hotel Spring.

IMG_4535 IMG_4536

We got some drinking water at the Hotel Spring and then watched Josh delivering the first load of bio-logs to the site.


Of course, The Buckthorn Man had to put in his 2-cents.

We then headed over to the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ to meet-up with the SEWTU work crew.

IMG_4539 IMG_4540

Here is a survey of the work area before we got started.

After reviewing the plan with Josh, I turned and got these pictures.

IMG_4543 IMG_4544 IMG_4545 IMG_4546

The workday progressed flawlessly as more SEWTU volunteers streamed in.

IMG_4547 IMG_4548 IMG_4550 IMG_4551

We soon had all of the bio-logs in place and focused on filling in brush behind them.

IMG_4553 IMG_4555 IMG_4554 IMG_4557

We accomplished an amazing amount of work before noon!

IMG_4561 IMG_4563 IMG_4564

Back at the parking lot, Ray, Chris and the other chefs laid out the traditional SEWTU brat fry.

IMG_4567 IMG_4568 IMG_4565

James Flagg above, talking with Mike Kuhr and with his son, Jim, below (sorry, I didn’t get in a little closer for this shot!)


During the morning Pati struck up a conversation with Larry Wirth, a long-time SEWTU member, about his role in the DNR’s decision to drain THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG (scroll down in the post linked above for some great, vintage shots of the ponds taken by Pete Nielsen).  I had to talk to Larry.

At the end of the interview, Larry expressed his concern and uncertainty about the suitability of coconut hull bio-logs to macro invertebrate life, which is essential for good trout habitat.  We talked to Josh Krall about the “sterility” of bio-log channels.  Josh explained that channel remediation was the first, and necessary, step in the restoration and that we could/should follow up and introduce organic material on the inside of the bio-logs to provide food and habitat for macro invertebrates like caddisfly.  Larry asked if there had been any studies done regarding the transition of bio-logs to a more natural stream bank and their suitability to supporting macro invertebrates.

I found this Como Lake Macroinvertebrate Survey online which states:

The two sites with biologs were not as productive as other sites and there did not appear to be other shoreline features associated with macroinvertebrate abundance or diversity.

The bio-logs upstream of the Emerald Spring were installed by SEWTU in 2008, and we can refer to them to gauge their transition to natural riverbank and the presence of macro invertebrates in their vicinity.  I plan to investigate this further next spring.  In general, I think it would be a good idea to line the insides of the bio-logs with some brush, logs or rocks to provide habitat for macro invertebrates.  Perhaps we can do another workday with SEWTU in 2015 to focus on this next important step.

The goal of our effort is to raise as much of the Scuppernong River Watershed to the level of Class I Trout Stream as is reasonably possible. Below you can see the Scuppernong River Watershed Trout Classifications (note that no portion of the Scuppernong River in Jefferson County, where it joins the Bark River, is rated Class III or better.


As if working with SEWTU wasn’t exciting enough, Chris Mann and Austin Avellone, from the Kettle Moraine Land Stewards, joined me for a very productive workday on Wednesday, December 3, at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  I began clearing the buckthorn from the tamarack grove there on Monday, December 1.  I was very happy to see that Andy Buchta had been busy piling the brush that Lindsay and I cut back in October.  Since then, Andy has finished piling all the brush we cut there.


Here is how the tamarack grove looked on Monday morning. IMG_4500 IMG_4502 IMG_4503 IMG_4505

I had a fine day cutting, but it was too dark by the time I quit to take any “after” photos.

Wednesday morning was absolutely beautiful.  You can see below what I accomplished on Monday and what lay ahead for the day.

IMG_4507 IMG_4508 IMG_4510 IMG_4513 IMG_4514

Chris worked the chainsaw and Austin swung the brush cutter and we got after it!


IMG_4517 IMG_4518

Last winter both Andy Buchta and I got horrible, blistering rashes (which I spread to Pati!), after working with the brush we cut in the buckthorn alley.  I was suspicious about this tree (the one in front below) and stopped Chris to ask what it was.



He explained that it was poison sumac and advised against cutting or even touching it.  That reminded me of the time that DNR Trail Boss, Don Dane, made a point of taking Lindsay and I over to an area near the boat doc at Ottawa Lake to emphatically show us what poison sumac looked like, and warn us to steer clear of it.  Well, you tried Don, and it took a nasty bout with poison sumac last year to teach me a lesson.  I cut a couple of poison sumacs on the north side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA, but no more.

Chris and Austin at work.

IMG_4526 IMG_4527

There is a very nice trail along the east shore of Ottawa Lake that passes beneath the campgrounds and the walk-in sites #335 and #334 and continues to the north side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  The views from this trail are going to get prettier as we continue clearing the buckthorn from the trail.  My dream is to eventually create a trail around the west side of the fen to connect to the boat landing on the southwest side of Ottawa Lake.  I think that would be awesome!

IMG_4528 IMG_4530 IMG_4532 IMG_4533

See you at The Springs!

Scuppernong River Survey

Like the headwaters of the river itself, efforts to restore the Scuppernong River to its natural state are gaining momentum.

Late last Fall the DNR Fisheries team, along with help from Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, installed bio-logs on the stretch of river between the old barn site and the gaging station bridge.


This Spring, we filled in the areas behind the bio-logs with brush inspired by the efforts of volunteers from Trinity United Methodist Church.


And recently, we rolled back the water cress…


… and began removing the remaining structures from the flumes that once channeled the outflow from the Scuppernong Spring.


The last time we saw Ben Heussner, DNR Fisheries Biologist, at The Springs, I reviewed with him the fact that in most of the places where dams or levees previously blocked the river, it looked like not enough of the obstructing material was removed, which resulted in humps in the riverbed that caused silt and marl to collect upstream.  Ben agreed and commissioned an elevation survey of the river from the Scuppernong Spring all the way downstream to the Marl Pit Bridge.


  1. Scuppernong Spring
  2. First bridge — end of flumes
  3. Second bridge — leading to hillside and hidden springs
  4. Emerald Spring
  5. Hotel Spring Bridge
  6. Hotel Spring
  7. Old Barn site
  8. Mid-point between old barn site and Gaging Station Bridge
  9. Gaging Station Bridge
  10. Just upstream of Marl Pit Bridge
  11. Marl Pit Bridge

Ben assembled a team of DNR experts to do the job.


From left to right above: Michelle Hase — Water Regulations and Zoning Engineer, Andrew Notbohm — Fisheries Technician & Water Resources Management Specialist, Lynette Check  — NR Engineer, Steven Gospodarek — Fisheries Technician and Joshua Krall — Fisheries Technician.  What a fine group!   I had a blast tagging along and listening in.

In locations where there was a noticeable hump in the riverbed, like points 2, 3, 5 and 10 marked on the river image above, they captured three GPS points: one at the “toe”, or point upstream where the hump started, one at the middle of the hump, and one at the “heel”, or point downstream where the hump ended.  Using the elevations from these three points and calculating the desired, or optimal slope, by incorporating all of the data point elevations, they will be able to determine how much material should be removed from the hump to allow the river to clear out the accumulated sediment.  Steve and Michelle explained that this doesn’t necessarily mean removing material from the river, it may be enough to simply spread the hump out beyond the “toe” and “heel”.

Lynette is the expert with the Trimble, GPS device and she made sure we accurately captured all the data points.  Back at the office, she will retrieve the exact elevations of each location and map them out.  There are simple and sophisticated ways to present the results depending on the questions asked, and I’m looking forward to the recommendations the DNR Fisheries Team comes up with.

Lynette and Michelle putting the trimble together.


The device relies on a cell phone to upload the data and Lynette took a soaker for The State, to help Steve reinitialize the device at the Scuppernong Spring.


Steve “Gus” Gospodarek taking the measurement at the “heel” downstream of the bridge at location #3 shown above.


Capturing the data point at the Hotel Spring.


Big birds at the Big Bend.


I was in heaven the whole time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Steve taught me new words like thalweg


… and oligotrophic.  Although the term oligotrophic (Lacking in plant nutrients and having a large amount of dissolved oxygen throughout) is normally applied to lakes, the concept can be extended to rivers as Steve used it to describe the Scuppernong River.

When the survey was done, Steve suggested we go back to forest headquarters and pick up a “jetter pump” to blast out the muck encasing the huge oak beams we discovered under the wreckage of the old flumes.  It was a pleasure to visit the Fishery Team’s storage facility and watch Steve, Andrew and Josh whip together a jetter pump rig.  Before you could say “brook trout”, we were back at the Scuppernong Spring blasting beams out of the muck.


I had so much fun…

We got three beams totally out and almost finished a fourth.  Josh suggested we leave a beam that we half excavated in place to create a bend in the channel — and so we did.  The views below are looking upstream from the first bridge below the Scuppernong Spring, where the flumes ended.

IMG_3453 IMG_3452

I have the jetter pump rig in my truck and hopefully we’ll be able to get the remaining beams out in the next few weeks.

It was an excellent day capped off when Pati, my African Queen, came out to join me and say goodbye to the Scuppernong Springs before she embarks for South Africa again.


See you at The Springs!