Watercress River

Watercress River

The Scuppernong River was beginning to remind me of a shaggy dog in desperate need of a trim.  Watercress blanketed the river from bank to bank and bed to billowing flowers overhead.  Way back in 2012 Lindsay and I began pulling watercress from the river — we actually thought we were getting rid of it.  Now I think that would be impossible unless one was willing to apply a huge amount of herbicide.

I pull watercress whenever it reaches the point were it begins to dam the river, which causes the flow to slow way down and the temperature to go up in what is called “thermal pollution”.  I’ve been cautioned by DNR Fisheries Biologist Ben Heussner that the watercress provides cover for the native brook trout and habitat for the macro invertebrates they feed on, so, I’m not trying to get it all out; I just want to see and hear the river flowing freely.ScuppernongRiverWaterCressPullingSites

The Scuppernong River upstream of the Hotel Spring is full of muck and marl that settled there during the 120 years the headwaters were impounded forming the upper and lower ponds.

B097164-R1-06-7_007During the trout farming days back in the 1870’s, three additional embankments were utilized to divide the river upstream of the Emerald Spring.  When the DNR drained the ponds in the early 90’s, they did not dig deep enough at each of the openings created in the embankments and the natural flow of the river remained impeded, trapping muck and marl upstream.  Beginning back in March of 2015, the DNR, along with help from the Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group and The Buckthorn Man, has begun rectifying this problem by excavating rock, soil and building materials from 4 of the old embankments.

The only thing still holding up the free flow of the river was watercress.  Watercress loves the mucky river bottom and banks and it grows prolifically at The Springs.  I am hoping now, with the embankments excavated and the watercress pulled back, or out, that we’ll finally start to see the Scuppernong River flowing like it used to; and taking some of that muck and marl downstream with it.

I started pulling watercress from the Scuppernong Spring downstream to the first bridge during my recent camping adventure at Ottawa Lake.

IMG_8589Over the last three weeks I have pulled watercress at the Fish Hatchery Springs, Indian Springs, Emerald Springs and the entire stretch of river upstream from there.

The Emerald Spring, the jewel of The Springs, was almost completely covered by watercress.  I still have some work to do at this location…

Then I worked on the stretch of river between the Emerald Spring and the Second Bridge , which is upstream from there (check the map above).

And finally, just yesterday, I finished the last stretch between the first and second bridges.  There is a gurgling rapids just below the first bridge now!

I got in a little garlic mustard pulling, and reed canary grass mowing, at The Springs.

I’ve been busy at the Hartland Marsh as well and was happy to have some help from my friend Mark Mamerow.  We had intended to do our “river rat” thing, and clear downed trees from the Bark River, but the water was too high so we pulled garlic mustard instead.

The GMO miracle!

See you at The Springs!

The Curse of Garlic Mustard

The Curse of Garlic Mustard

Once you know a thing, there is no unknowing it.  Unfortunately for me, I became aware of the negative impact of garlic mustard, and around this time of year I feel compelled to try to stop it’s spread.  I wish I had more time to garden in our woods and wetlands!

After all these years pulling and cutting garlic mustard, you’d think I might be an expert on it, but I just learned from my good friend, Lindsay Knudsvig, that the seeds of garlic mustard form in what are called siliques.

1330040This is empowering information as I was previously focused only on the flowering garlic mustard i.e., preventing the flowers from maturing by cutting or pulling the plants.  Now, my garlic mustard fighting season will continue so long as I can locate and collect the siliques.

I recently spent three days pulling and mowing at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  Check out this gallery of garlic mustard horrors.

I’m not using any herbicide on the garlic mustard and actually seeing very positive results just cutting and pulling.  Hand pulling is definitely the best way to go when the garlic mustard is nestled in among native plants.  I pulled the garlic mustard from the area around the Scuppernong Spring.IMG_8636

In the areas where it is carpeting the ground, like shown above, mowing is great option.  Either way, eradicating invasive plants is a wonderful way to spend time in nature.  Check out these morels I stumbled upon while pulling garlic mustard at the Hartland Marsh.

Last Saturday I was joined by Arrowhead High School Instructor Greg Bisbee, and a group of young people from the school, along with Marsha and Jeff from The Friends of the Hartland Marsh, for a garlic mustard pulling party.  We worked along the hillside at the Cottonwood Gazebo and north, across the village corn field, on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy property.

IMG_2239IMG_2242IMG_2244There is a long way to go in the battle against garlic mustard!

I spent a wonderful week camping at site #335, my favorite spot at the Ottawa Lake Campground.  Thanks to Jim, Bob and Mark for stopping by to play some guitar and enjoy the campfire.

We have been pulling spotted knapweed and cutting out brush from the lupine fields on the west slope of the sand prairie for 3-4 years now.  Nature is responding and in a few years the whole hillside will be covered with lupine!

I’m a point and shoot photographer and hope someday to learn how to use my camera.  Until then…

See you at The Springs!

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Time was running out at The Marsh.  Since I punted back in 2011, the Buckthorn’s offense had rallied back to take the lead and we were stymied by their impenetrable defense.  Ice Age Trail Alliance coach, Kevin Thusius, got the call from the booth: offensive coordinator, Village Administrator Dave Cox, said the only hope to save The Buckthorn Man’s efforts was a “Hail Mary” pass.  Kevin looked to the bench for the DNR’s special teams players Don Dane and Mike Spaight, who hadn’t seen action in the game since last March.

Don, the wily veteran, called timeout.  He suggested we rent an ASV machine, mount a DNR forestry mower head on it, and then throw it to Mike, waiting upland in the end zone.

As the last seconds ticked off the clock, I snapped the ball to Don and blocked the rushing buckthorn, holding them off just long enough for him to get the pass in the air.  Mike, surrounded by a thorny thicket, caught the ball and mowed the defenders down as he cleared a path into the end zone.


Here is a look at the field before the big play.  Note that you can open the gallery and see the pictures full-size by clicking on any of them, or, you can hover your mouse over a picture to read the narrative in the description.

I was working at the Scuppernong Springs this past Monday when Don called to say that he had lined up the ASV machine and they would be ready to start the next day.  We had just enough funds left in the kitty, contributed by the Village of Hartland, and we had made the decision that its best use would be forestry mowing; that was a good call, as you can see by the amazing and outstanding work that Don and Mike accomplished.  But our dance in the end zone will be merely a gaudy display if we don’t get more funding to treat the cut stubs.  We are debating whether to do a basal bark treatment before they get covered with snow, Don’s recommendation, or, wait until the cut stumps bush out in the late spring to treat them with foliar herbicide spray.  In either case, we don’t have any money right now.   We’ll get flagged with a penalty, and the touchdown will be called back, if we don’t come up with something.  Here is a map showing the area they mowed in blue, followed by an “after” gallery displaying the results.


Long time followers of The Buckthorn Man were probably stunned when they read this statement at the bottom of the presentation I made to the Village of Hartland Board on January 25:

The preservation, restoration and protection of the primary environmental corridor in the Village of Hartland is too vitally important to leave in the hands of ad hoc groups of volunteers, especially when considering that the Village is one of the primary land owners in the corridor.

Yup, this is coming from the same pen that wrote a post called Freedom that includes this gem:

Our Political “law” is nothing but the arbitrary WILL OF MEN and WOMEN. Government exists to direct and control our minds; the “State” is a figment of our collective imaginations.

On one hand, I’m challenging the legitimacy of the government’s claim of “authority”, and on the other, I’m asking the Village of Hartland — the powers that be, who “speak the law (exert jurisdiction)”, in these parts — to step up and take leadership.  You can rightly question the sanity of The Buckthorn Man: is he schizophrenic, or just pragmatic?

I’m still trying to sort out the meaning of Village Board President David Lamerand’s response to my presentation and I have confidence that the Village will act in good faith to address the concerns I have raised.  You can listen to an audio of my presentation to the Village Board on January 25, here, beginning at the 5:55 mark.  Thanks to the Village Clerk, Darlene Igl, for providing the audio.

It has been an exceptionally benign winter so far, perfect in every way for cutting and burning buckthorn in the forest.  On Thursday, January 28, I was joined at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA by Andy Buchta and Ben Johnson.  We had a flawless day continuing to open up the views to Ottawa Lake from Hwy 67 and the SkyDance Pet Lodge parking lot.

On Friday, January 29, I was joined by a new volunteer, Jeff Saatkamp, a member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance at the Hartland Marsh.  I brush cut buckthorn saplings on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy property and Jeff and I poisoned the cut stubs.  Thanks Jeff!  I’m looking forward to working with you again at The Marsh.   As a bonus, Cheryl White the new executive director of the Waukesha County Land Conservancy, stopped out to visit and we had a marvelous time exploring the property.  Cheryl brings a wealth of experience and skill to the job and I’m looking forward to working with her

On Monday, February 1, I was joined at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail by Andy Buchta and Lindsay Knudsvig in the morning, and Ben Johnson later in the day.  Thank you all for volunteering your time and energy to restoring our Kettle Moraine treasure!

Later that evening, around 6:30pm, as Ben and I were tending the fires, I happened to be looking to the east through spreading oak branches at Orion’s belt in the sky.  Just then a bright light emerged and I called out to Ben, “Look!” and we both watched the meteor expand into a huge white ball before it disappeared at the horizon.

I’m looking forward to joining my friends at another State Natural Area Workday at the Whitewater Oak Opening on February 13.

See you at The Springs!

The Ides of Marsh

Version 2The fall of 2015 marked a turning point in the history of The Marsh: the return of The Buckthorn Man.  After watching the buckthorn resuming it’s domination over the last four years — and all of my hard work going for naught — I was inspired by my friends at the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the Village of Hartland and the Waukesha County Land Conservancy (the Hartland Marsh Restoration Committee) to pick up the torch again, and try to save The Marsh.

Marlin Johnson has championed the restoration effort since around 1990 and over the years he has played a key role in preserving and protecting this primary ecological corridor and natural habitat area in the Village.  He recently shared all of his records with me and I will be scanning them and posting them here in the near future.  It’s all there: fish counts, land acquisitions, archaeological sites, glacial history, and contact information for all of the Friends of the Hartland Marsh who worked with him.  Don’t be surprised if you get a call or letter from The Buckthorn Man: I am taking over coordination of the Friends of the Hartland Marsh and will soon have a new version of the brochure stocked in the Ice Age Trail Alliance trailhead map boxes on Maple and Cottonwood Avenues.

Please do check out the new Hartland Marsh page on this site for a who, what, where, when, why and how breakdown of the restoration effort.

In 2007, when the Waukesha County Land Conservancy acquired the 27 acre Minogue property that straddles the Bark River, Marlin asked if Pati and I would like to be the caretakers of this property.  Since then, it’s felt more like home than the rest of The Marsh, and that is the first place where I resumed my work.  Thousand of young buckthorn were thriving on the old Parker Brothers homestead site and I began cutting and poisoning them.  Over the course of 4-5 workdays I cleared the area marked in red on the map below.


On September 23, 2015 Lynn, Cindy and other members of The Hartland Business Improvement District met The Buckthorn Man at the Cottonwood Wayside for a discussion about The Marsh followed by a short tour.  I really appreciated the opportunity to share the beauty of The Marsh with members of the community who had yet to experience it.  I’m hoping to partner with The Hartland BID in the future restoration efforts!


On October 17, 2015 The Village of Hartland became the first Ice Age Trail Community partner and there was a very nice celebration at Nixon Park including coffee and some outstanding cake.


With winter fast approaching and hand surgery scheduled (followed by 5-6 weeks on the bench), I was eager to capitalize on the new spirit of enthusiasm in the Village for The Marsh, and I scheduled a workday for November 14, 2015.  Our goal was to continue the brush clearing that the DNR did for us back in March along the hillside below the Cottonwood Wayside.  It’s the area marked in blue on the map shown above.   We had great weather and an outstanding turnout.  So unlike the Ides of March, the future bodes well for the Ides of Marsh.

See you at The Marsh!

The River Rats

It was meant to be.  The Blue Dolphin canoe, pocked with holes and abandoned at a DNR boat launch, was destined to become the Bark River search and rescue boat.  Mike Fort connected me with Jay, who works with the DNR at Lapham peak, and who had been storing the boat in his backyard for years, and Pati and I lashed it atop her subaru and brought it home.  It was soon refurbished and christened in the tannin brown waters of the Bark River.

IMG_0864The long neglected Bark River was crisscrossed by huge downed trees, choked with thick floating mats of duck weed and festooned with the refuse of the Village of Hartland.  My good friend, Mark Mamerow, is a seasoned canoeist and I was lucky to have his stable hand at the stern.  IMG_1701

We took many a trip down the Mighty Bark in the Blue Dolphin with chainsaw, chest waders and garbage bags and, slowly, cleaned up the river and made it navigable again.  I’m looking forward to the “river rats” return to the Bark in 2016 — it’s been a while and I wonder if the river is still open all the way to Lake Nagawicki.

You might want to get a bird’s eye view of the river before we take you up close in this gallery.

The Parker Brothers’ Homestead

After World War I, Jim and John “Ike”, Parker built a homestead on the south side of the Bark River.  Their niece, Debby Erwin, known as “Ms. Lake Country” in the real estate business, used to visit “The Old Boys” at their home on the Bark River and she shared many stories about them with Pati and I.  Jim got into some difficulties with the authorities and lived there “under the radar.”

VikingLeoofAvondaleThey loved to hunt and buried their beloved dog, “Jacob Boy”, on the island across the north side of the Bark River.  The gravestone is still there: Jacob Boy of Avondale 1941-1955, it reads.  That’s a reference to Avondale, England and I image Jacob Boy looked something like this.




HartlandMarsh 154Ike loved to carve wood (their father owned a lumber business in Merton) and you can see an authentic totem pole he fashioned at the old home site.  I found it hidden in a buckthorn thicket on the hillside between the house and the river.  Marlin Johnson and Brian Engel erected it quite ingeniously!






IMG_0717The brothers built the bridge over the river in 1948, etching the date in the concrete foundation at the south bank.  I’ll never forget the heavy rain in the summer of 2008 that lifted the bridge from it’s center support posts and left it pointing downstream, hanging by a corner on the south bank.  Luckily, Mike Fort was there to help me and we repositioned it exactly.  Later, Pati and I replaced the deck boards.

In the early 70’s a woman with the surname Minogue, who taught pottery at a local school, moved in with her son.  He didn’t care much for The Buckthorn Man and he used to curse a blue streak, harassing me for cutting buckthorn on the adjoining IAT property.  Occasionally, I would find a dead bird and a nasty note from him under my windshield wiper.  There were many times I stayed late after working, to enjoy the moon and stars with my old friend Jack Daniels, that I would hear him howling and wailing as if possessed by a demon.

Marlin loaned me his research papers and documentation related to The Marsh and I am starting to scan them and post them on the Marlin Johnson’s Research page.  Below, in one of the nuggets from Marlin, John Parker comes to life.


In 2007 Marlin negotiated the purchase of the property on behalf of the Waukesha County Land Conservancy and Pati and I became the caretakers.  How ironic!  It wasn’t long before The Buckthorn Man had cut all the buckthorn on the Parker/Minogue property.  That was some of the most gratifying work I have ever done!

IMG_5054On October 18, 2007 the Village of Hartland Fire Department burned the homestead down for a training exercise (removing the structure was part of the purchase agreement), and Pati was there by chance to capture these pictures.

Aerial View of the Hartland Marsh

On April 24, 2008, Pati and I took a plane ride over the Hartland Marsh.  It was a birthday present from Pati and our objective was to get some cool pictures to use in our presentation to The Village of Hartland Board to ask permission to cut the buckthorn and honeysuckle on the village property around the Cottonwood Wayside/Gazebo.

We followed the Bark River Northeast from where it spills into the Upper Nemahbin Lake and upstream through Lake Nagawicka finally arriving at the Hartland Marsh.