GL students help restore Cty. Hwy. K estuary

Green Lake School District students assist the Lake Management Planning team in placing 27,500 native plant propagules (root stock) into the County Highway K Estuary. Propagules were strategically tossed into 12 fenced off carp exclosures. submitted photo

by: Alison Thiel

Editor’s note: This piece is the second story in a two-part series about the restoration of Green Lake’s County Highway K Estuary.

This month, the Lake Management Planning (LMP) team and Green Lake School District students joined forces in an effort to restore the County Highway K Estuary, a major wetland complex located at the southwest corner of Big Green Lake.

The group of professionals and students spent two days preparing and placing 27,500 native plant propagules, or root stock.

This is the second year the eighth grade students have camped at the school forest and completed a service learning project, according to Jason Ladwig, Mary Hunter and Cathy Moore, Green Lake School District teachers and field trip chaperones.

“One of our main goals of this trip is to connect students to their local environment in a meaningful way, one that will promote stewardship,” Ladwig said.

The students played a fundamental role in a multi-year attempt to convert the County Highway K Estuary from a degraded estuary to a healthy one.

Presently the algae-dominated wetland is a phosphorus and sediment loader to Green Lake. Largely to blame is a concentrated non-native carp population that disturbs the estuary’s fragile bottom.

The carp’s disruptive movements uproot beneficial aquatic plants and shift nutrients downstream, where they fuel the lake’s weed and algae growth.

In order to restore the County Highway K Estuary to a natural nutrient sponge, the LMP team and Green Lake students prepared and planted three native plant varieties: sago pondweed, wild celery and arrowhead.

The root stock was placed in biodegradable bags that were weighted down with rocks to ensure that, once tossed into the estuary, they would sink to the bottom and take root.

“I liked that we were able to be a part of bagging the aquatic plants. It was awesome to know that I was a part of something that was helping our environment,” eighth grader Lexus Toth said.

The root stock was placed in strategic sections of the estuary in 12 carp exclosures, fenced-off areas that are designed to keep carp out and allow plants to grow with no disturbance.

“Carp exclosures create short-term sanctuaries for one to three years,” explained Ted Johnson, lakes biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “This allows native plants to establish and produce seeds or propagules. There are still carp in the County Highway K and these exclosures provide a level of insurance.”

Johnson explained that reestablishing native plants within the estuary will greatly improve water quality and also minimize the establishment of invasive species such as Eurasian water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed

With the LMP team’s ongoing success in netting and removing more than 100,000 pounds of carp to-date at the County Highway K bridge, the future of a restored K Estuary is bright.

As for Ladwig, Hunter, Moore and the Green Lake School District, they hope to make the school forest field trip and service learning project an annual event through Green Lake’s Outdoor Education Program.

“We are aware that some students do not get outdoors to interact with their environment. This is an important way for them to connect and become empowered,” Ladwig said.

“We are excited that in the future when students go past the County Highway K, they will realize that they made a difference.”

Alison Thiel is the Project Manager for the Green Lake Association, a local not-for-profit that works to improve water quality for Green Lake. The GLA is a guest columnist on behalf of the LMP team.