By Coggin Heeringa, Program Director/Naturalist, Crossroads at Big Creek
This is Wisconsin Water Week 2021. Crossroads at Big Creek is one of the Wisconsin Water Week Conference sponsors because we have an institutional obsession with water. Besides, sponsorship enables Crossroads staff to view a wide array of virtual lectures, important because we are eager to absorb results of the latest scientific research pertaining to water issues to help in planning, decision-making and implementation of our ongoing restoration efforts.
Under the guidance of Landscapes of Place, we currently are finalizing the Crossroads Ecological Restoration Plan for 2021. Under the Vision and Guiding Principles section, it states, “The focal point of Crossroads is the Big Creek Estuary and its associated habitats. Big Creek, a navigable waterway with coastal wetlands, is important both locally and to the greater Green Bay Estuary, the earth’s largest freshwater estuary.”
Clearly we care about water; the restoration efforts we conduct on the land are designed to improve water-related habitats such as sedge meadows and alder thickets and also our northern white cedar–dominated wet mesic forest because of their significance as a migratory bird stopover and a habitat for spawning fish.
Our Ecological Restoration Plan calls for our work to “Begin at the Creek,”because “Big Creek is the heart of Crossroads, both ecologically and symbolically.”
Last summer and throughout winter, working with contractors under the guidance of Nancy Aten and Dan Collins of Landscapes of Place, Crossroads staff and volunteers indeed did “begin at the creek,” removing invasive vegetation from the creek and wetlands and also along its banks.
Crossroads’ educational theme this year, is “Transformations,” and visitors will see many signs this spring that transformation is taking place — giant piles of buckthorn, a restocked nursery and acres that appear to be decimated. It’s all a part of restoration.
In the coming growing season, invasive mitigation will continue, and, as an amplification of the Climate Change Coalition’s “The Big Plant,” we, meaning contractors, staff and hopefully, community volunteers, will be appropriately placing and planting thousands of native trees.
Trees do a great deal more than providing beauty. Most people have heard the standard benefits — trees save energy, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, increase property values and improve air quality.
Wisconsin Water Week is a good time to appreciate the importance of trees in improving water quality. Most of us are aware and annoyed (to put it mildly) by the increase of weeds and algae in streams, bays and along our lakeshores.
Aquatic vegetation has proliferated due to a combination of circumstances, but nutrients and soils which are washed into the water during storms certainly play a major role.
Because tree canopies slow raindrops as they fall, soil erosion is significantly reduced. Raindrops are caught by the leaves, and then, after the storm, the droplets gently fall whenever the breezes blow. Thus, trees reduce the volume of soil particles and phosphorus which otherwise would be washed into the water.
Furthermore, during pelting rainstorms — what we call “gully-washers”– the raindrops literally fracture as they hit the tree leaves, and the resulting mist is far more likely to be absorbed by the soil, especially where trees roots have created air spaces in the soil, increasing its moisture-storing capacity.
During Wisconsin Water Week, we are finalizing plans to replace dense thickets of invasive shrubs and trees with native species which are, as our Plan says, “facilitative—helpful—to the desired ecological outcome.”
Individuals and organizations interested in helping with land restoration can join our “Habitat Healers” mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Habitat Healers” in the subject line. Once trees have arrived and conditions are appropriate, we will send out notices for training and work party events.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages. We welcome your support! Become a member of Crossroads by mailing your support to P.O. Box 608, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, or donate online at www.crossroadsatbigcreek.org. Ski for Free availability and trail condition are updated on our website daily during ski season.