The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

I always thought the Scuppernong Springs was a jewel — a “World Class” site —  as retired DNR Naturalist Ron Kurowski would say.  When I discovered back in July, 2012 that the Scuppernong River Area was one of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association‘s “Wetland Gems“, I reached out to them for some advice.  WWA Executive Director Tracy Hames, newly arrrived from his previous position as head of the Yakama Nation’s Waterfowl Program, responded quickly and we soon had a date set for his first visit to The Springs.  Here is the interview I captured with Tracy back in August 2012 — his love and passion for wetlands is inspiring!  We’ve stayed in touch since that first visit and Tracy recently brought the entire WWA staff to check out The Springs.


Kyle, Jake, Erin, Chelsea, Tod, Tracy and Katie

Tracy had just let me know that I would be one of the recipients of the 2016 Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Award.  I don’t volunteer my time and energy to try and garner any awards — it’s how I escape the reality of a world gone mad — but I’m proud to have received this honor from the WWA and I invite you to the celebration:

Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Awards recognize individuals and groups whose work advances our tri-fold mission – the protection, restoration and enjoyment of Wisconsin’s wetlands and related ecosystems.

Wetlands Awards celebration information:

November 10, 2016
UW Madison Arboretum
1207 Seminole Hwy, Madison, WI

Tickets $40/person
Event includes a buffet dinner and cash bar.
Get your tickets today by calling (608) 250-9971. RSVPs required by November 3rd.

I’ll be sharing the spotlight with:

The Friends of the La Crosse River Marsh

And the Oneida Nation.  oneida-indian-nation-big-logo

Of course I couldn’t have done it without the love, support and excellent nomination of Pati Holman.  The Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited chapter deserves credit for all the work they’ve done on the Scuppernong River.  And the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association has long played a key role in the rehabilitation of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, partly by their financial support for The Buckthorn Man.  And, I’m practicing my speech here, thanks to all the friends who have helped me at The Springs, especially Lindsay Knudsvig and Ben Johnson.  I hope to see you at the Arboretum!

Biodiversity is one of the distinguishing features of the Scuppernong Springs and in the past month I have been working in the fen area shown approximately in blue on the map below.


I’ve been noticing a proliferation of tight groups of glossy buckthorn, which I’m guessing metatasized from batches of finely seasonsed seeds deposited via deer feces.  They consist of as many as 20 individual stalks that have reached a height of around 10-12′ growing from little mounds.   The understory is a carpet of 2″ buckthorn seedlings ready to take advantage of the sunlight.  Deer must love this place as their beds are everywhere.  When you stand on the marl pit bridge and look southeast into this area you can see the encroaching buckthorn.


The bunches of glossy buckthorn look like green snowcones in front of the wall of tall trees in the background.

I am trying to nip this onslaught in the bud with my brushcutter; in another couple years, it will take a chainsaw, and in a decade, the fen will be completely covered.  But I am learning that, unless you can control the schedule of the application of prescribed burns, you are creating more problems than you solve by opening up the canopy to a carpet of buckthorn seedlings.  Thus, I will be applying a foliar spray of Aquaneat to the glossy buckthorn carpet to prevent another thicket emerging — I’m making an exception to save the fen.

The last prescribed burn at The Springs was back in May, 2013 and we really need another one to put a check on the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I’ve been busy in the past month mowing and treating buckthorn seedlings and resprouts in many different areas.  These young trees are wasting no time in producing seeds and it gives me a little angst to walk the trails and see the buckthorn resurging in all of the areas where we cleared the big buckthorn.  My strategy of mowing and treating, rather than foliar spraying, is not working very well absent prescribed fire.  I’m doing the best I can to keep up with the resprouts and I think I may forego cutting anymore big buckthorn at the Scuppernong Springs until I get the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts under control in the areas already cleared.

The areas marked in red on the map below show where I have been brushcutting.


I had an excellent workday at the Hartland Marsh with help from the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age trail, students from Arrowhead High School, and the Friends of the Hartland Marsh.  Our next workday at The Marsh is November 5th; we’ll be working on the John Muir Island.


I’ve been brushcutting buckthorn seedlings and resprouts at the Waukesha County Land Conservancy‘s property at the Hartland Marsh as well, and recently did some infrastructure support work on the Bark River bridge there.

img_2516Back in the summer of 2010 we had a major rainfall event, and the water rose so high in the Bark River that it lifted the bridge, shown above, off it’s supports and left it pointing downstream — hanging onto the bank by a corner.  Mike Fort and I swam and waded into the river and guided the bridge back over to its original position.  It felt miraculous!  A month or two ago I noticed that one of the support posts had shifted and was barely carrying any load.

img_2536My first attempt to fix it was not quite right as I lifted it completely off its partner support.


I repositioned it to distribute the load to both supports and its a little better now than when I started, but this needs work.  I would hate to loose that bridge!

img_2585My plan for the next few months, or as long into the winter as I can do it, is to concentrate on buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I have a new camera and plan to break it out soon.  In the meantime, here are a few parting shots courtesy of my iPhone.

See you at The Springs!

The Garden of Weed’in

The Garden of Weed’in

I always wondered what it would be like to capsize a canoe in the middle of a windswept lake and I recently got to experience it on Lake Nokomis with my good friend, Todd Nelson.  I saved my tevas and backpack but lost my Canon G15 camera.  Todd saved his guitar but lost his funky hat and iPhone.  The thing I liked about it was that neither of us got upset in any way; we made it to shore, emptied the canoe and finished our voyage.  It was almost a pleasure to deal with the adversity, together, in a calm way.


Todd playing his song Sleeping Man in his inimitable style

I’ve been super busy this last month helping my friend Scott Finch break down his recording studio and move to North Carolina…

Velvet Sky Studio

Velvet Sky Studio

… and doing two art fairs with my friend Chris Belleau, but there is some good news and progress to share from The Buckthorn Man.


Chris Belleau at the Morning Glory Art Fair in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Summer is the season to attack weeds and in years past I focused on pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie.  That is until August of 2014, when I introduced both flower (Larinus minutus) and root (Clyphocleonus achates) weevils to munch on the knapweed.  This is their third year feasting at the sand prairie and they are really getting the job done!  Now, when are they going to find an effective biocontrol for garlic mustard?

I’ve been concentrating on other weeds this summer and feeling sanguine about the prospect of significantly reducing the exotic, invasive plants, at The Springs and the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  One of the weeds I’ve been working on is narrow-leaved cattail — in cases where it is dominating springs or blocking the main channel down the river.  There are many springs on the east/right side of the observation deck at the Emerald Spring that were totally covered in cattails.  Here are before and after views.

IMG_2295IMG_2305IMG_2308And just last week I dug out cattails and reed canary grass from the main river channel all the way from the Hotel Springs upstream to the Hatching House Springs (map here).  I’ve been sprucing up the river in anticipation of meeting Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and his entire staff, for a tour of the wetlands in the Scuppernong River Nature Preserve.  We had an excellent visit a few weeks ago exploring the wetlands that we opened up on the north end of the loop trail, and wading upstream from the gaging station bridge all the way to the Hotel Springs.  Tracy suggested we cut the narrow-leaved cattails as low as possible prior to the tentatively scheduled fall prescribed burn (hopefully DNR burn boss, Don Dane, can pull this off).  Not only will this put more dried fuel on the ground it will increase the chances that the burned tips of the cattails will be submerged under water next spring, which would significantly diminish their regrowth.  Tracy also pointed out that purple loosestrife was popping up all over the place.  I explained that biocontrol agents for the loosestrife had been released at The Springs more than 5 years ago and that they had made a dramatic impact on the southwest border of the nature preserve.  We speculated that the loosestrife beetles would find the newly emerging plants, but I’m probably going to pull all the isolated purple loosestrife I can find before they set seed — to be on the safe side.


It was a real pleasure to share The Springs with such an enthusiastic and supportive group!

After the meeting with Tracy and the WWA staff, I visited the Indian Springs to pull creeping bentgrass that was spreading like crazy and setting loads of seed.  Here is a gallery of before and after images.

I took a couple days off from pulling and collecting seed heads from canada thistle, bull thistle, sow thistle, white sweet clover and yellow sweet clover at The Springs to hang out with Lindsay Knudsvig at the Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area, near Hazel Green, Wisconsin.  Lindsay is currently working in nearby Dubuque, Iowa and he has adopted the Hardscrabble Prairie SNA as his own.  We need more people like Lindsay who care about the land, see what needs to be done, and simply do it.


I managed to squeeze in 5 days of camping at My Shangri-La (campsite #335 at Ottawa Lake), and took advantage of the proximity to get some work done at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  I had not been there since May and I was amazed at how overgrown the trail from the campsite north around the fen had become.  Numerous box elder and black locust trees that we girdled a few years back had fallen across the trail and black locust seedlings and weeds of every stripe had made the trail nearly impassable.  Jared Urban, conservation biologist with the DNR and the main force behind the State Natural Areas volunteer program, was planning to visit so I spent two days clearing the trail and pulling weeds.

IMG_2408We explored the east shoreline of Ottawa Lake and took the freshly cleared trail around the north side of the fen, celebrating the progress that has been made.  Jared pointed out a few weeds like Japanese hedgeparsley and teasel that were just starting to make inroads and, needless to say, I pulled all I could find.   There is still a lot more weed pulling and weed seed collecting to do at both the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA and at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  I started on the queen anne’s lace near the Hotel Springs and Jared tells me I’m way ahead of the DNR on this one.

IMG_2424IMG_2425Well, this has been a rambling recap of the adventures of The Buckthorn Man in the Garden of Weed’in.  You know, ever since he tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and learned the difference between right and wrong, he has been a missionary: shining the light of truth into the darkness; pulling out the weeds to reveal the magnificence of The Creator.

In 2013 I ran into the DNR water quality team doing a fish count on the Scuppernong River and it was fascinating.  Then in 2014 I coincidentally ran into them again and documented it on my old website here.  I wasn’t able to join them in 2015 or 2016, but I got the latest counts from 2016.

Scuppernong River Fish Counts
Fish 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Brook Trout 121 213 92 66 46 113 27
Brook Stickleback 59 25 11 1 4 93 94
Central Mudminnow 69 72 15 5 58 69 2
Fantail Darter 2 10 8 9 0 36 58
Grass Pickerel 0 1 1 1 10 1 1
Green Sunfish 0 1 0 4 0 0 0
Johnny Darter 0 2 1 0 0 2 7
Largemouth Bass 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
Mottled Sculpin 240 169 211 86 107 212 168
Northern Pike 0 0 0 3 0 0 0

The DNR always counts fish in the same stretch of river between the gaging station bridge and the Hotel Springs and I always see 6-8 brook trout hanging out just below the bridge that is upstream of the Hotel Springs.  It is possible that all of the stream remediation work we have been doing has prompted a natural redistribution of the brook trout upstream of their old haunts.  The DNR has stocked brown trout and lately, brook trout, in the Scuppernong River, so that is another factor to consider.

Here are some parting shots…

See you at The Springs!