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!

SEWTU: Trout Stream Therapists

SEWTU: Trout Stream Therapists

It’s becoming a tradition for Trout Unlimited Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter #078 to close out their workday schedule for the year at the Scuppernong River.  The Buckthorn Man documented a little of the history of this great organization after their last therapy session on the river back on December 6, 2014.  These guys are passionate about trout fishing and dedicated to improving the health of the local trout streams.

I met the DNR River Doctors back in February 2013.


From the left: Dr. Krall, Dr. Notbohm, Dr. Gospoderak, Dr. Heussner and Trail Boss Don Dane in front

Ok, they aren’t really doctors, they’re “only” Fisheries Biologists and Technicians, but metaphorically speaking, they do heal trout streams and they shared their skills with the willing and able volunteers from Trout Unlimited — transforming them into “Trout Stream Therapists.”

The headwaters of the  Scuppernong River are still recovering from the human interventions that created THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG.

B097164-R1-06-7_007Submerged for over 120 years, the original river bed was all but lost.  Immediately below the upper pond, shown above, was another embankment that created the lower pond, the site of a sawmill, cheese factory and finally, a hotel.  Downstream from there, where the “big bend” points the river west, they built a goldfish farm.

It’s a long journey back to Class I Trout Stream for the Scuppernong River, and the kind of work that the DNR coordinated with Trout Unlimited last Saturday is slowly but surely going to: “fix the water”, as Tracy Hames, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, would say.  As of now, the headwaters of the Scuppernong River is still a Class II Trout Stream, but we have seen a lot of habitat improvements made over the last couple years and the fish counts improved in 2015.

ScuppernongRiverTroutClassificationFisheries Biologist, Ben Heussner, identified 12 work sites and explained the plan for the day.

IMG_6680IMG_6682ScuppernongRiverWordayOverviewMy right hand is still healing from surgery for Dupuytren’s Contracture (Ben and “Gus” had offered to straighten it out for me), so I enjoyed shadowing Ben as he visited the work sites.  I’ll document them in the order that we encountered them that morning, including video, and before and after pictures for each site.


We did not have enough biologs to accomplish all of the original goals and Ben and Gus made the call that it would take too long get another load from off-site.  Below, Josh and Gus saw an area just upstream from the gaging station bridge, that was not on Ben’s plan, to do a little therapy.


#6 & #7 We did not get to.

Since The Buckthorn Man cut all the brush, it’s pretty slim pick’ins to fill in behind the biologs.  Ben suggested we wait for winter and use a sled to drag brush over from some distant piles.



#4 We did not get to


#3 The Big Bend


#1 The Hotel Springs

#9 Downstream from gaging station bridge

A brush piling brigade!

#11 The Marl Pit Bridge

We celebrated the last workday of the year with another classic Trout Unlimited brat fry.

Thanks again to everyone who participated.  We got a lot done — it was a great day.

See you at The Springs!