Making progress toward natural state

Volunteers from two families cleaned up Tichora the first weekend in May. Pictured are, from left, the Rawson family of Kelly, Max and Olivia, and the Drake family of Bennett, Nathan, Brody, Kelley and Michelle. submitted photo

by Joe Schulz

Last summer, folks hiking through the Tichora Conservancy were likely to see volunteers removing the remnants of the Camp Grow campground. But this summer they’ll see nothing but the natural world as the buildings have all been removed.

The scenic 44-acre area is located along the south shore in Green Lake’s Dickson Bay, offering shallow caves, sandstone cliffs and immense trees.

Since the Green Lake Conservancy and Sanitary District purchased the property in 2018 with the help of 600 donors and a grant from the Wisconsin DNR, they’ve been dedicated to restoring it to its natural state.

The restoration aims to benefit both Green Lake and Spring Lake by reducing phosphorus runoff.

According to Green Lake Sanitary District Administrator Lisa Reas, the project doesn’t have a firm deadline, but the next two years will be dedicated to getting a handle on invasive plant species.

The past year has been spent tearing down buildings and removing invasive species, primarily European buckthorn and garlic mustard.

Crews of volunteers have spent hours working to remove the invasive species, along with professional consultants using herbicides.

Ideally, the Sanitary District would avoid using herbicides, but Reas noted they’re necessary on this project because of an “insane amount of garlic mustard” on the property.

“It’s not a plant that you hear as much about these days, but it’s very invasive to woodland areas,” Reas said. “So, we’re struggling with that right now and this is the time of the year that it’s really prevalent.”

Once the invasive species are under control, the Sanitary District will work to plant species that were native to the area in the 1800s.

This year, Reas says prairie species, with an emphasis on pollinator habitats, will be planted over the grassy area near the gravel parking lot.

“We’re putting an emphasis on pollinator species because we do have a pollinator crisis in this country and we’re trying to be respectful of that,” she said. “But the thing with [a] prairie is it’s not a quick thing; we’re three years away from the prairie even being what we envision it being.”

According to Green Lake Conservancy Vice President of Conservation Thomas Eddy, Wisconsin, like many other states, is “pollinator impoverished,” which has thrown the ecosystem off-balance.

Eddy noted restoring pollinator habitats helps to refuel Tichora’s “natural capital,” and restore ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services can include the natural production of food, water and oxygen; the regulation of climate through photosynthesis; and cultural services such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

“We’ve lost so many of our native pollinators that we depend upon,” Eddy said. “So through this kind of restoration, we are able to start receiving those ecosystem services again.”

Beyond planting pollinators, Reas added the Sanitary District aims to restore the site’s tree cover to what it was in the 1800s.

The Sanitary District is hoping to receive a habitat restoration grant from the DNR that will aim to restore the property’s woodland areas.

Reas says Tichora features a variety of “beautiful oak trees” along with invasive species such as boxelder and locusts.

“Part of our application for this grant was to remove those species and restore more of the hardwoods,” she said. “Additionally, white pine is native to the property, but there’s actually very little white pine there, and I’d like to see some of that come back.”

But before the Sanitary District can work to restore the tree cover, Reas noted it needs to get the invasive species under control.

“We have to really get a better handle on those invasive species, the ground covers, before we can invest in restoration plants or trees,” she said.

Reas noted restoration, when done right, is often a slow process of getting rid of weeds and invasive species. Even with the buildings out, she knows Tichora is still a long way from being fully restored.

“To actually get the vegetation established in the way that we want, we do have some time yet,” she said.

Since the project’s start, it’s been aided by local residents donating their time and energy into the restoration of Tichora.

FROM LEFT, Joel Baranowski, Kristen Baranowski and Jerry Specht examine a pile of relics left on the Tichora Conservancy property. Joe Schulz photo

Green Lake Sanitary District President Jerry Specht has helped cultivate a dedicated group of “Green Team” volunteers who have spent hours removing European buckthorn. That work has been pivotal to the progress made in the last year.

“I just want to thank all the volunteers who have helped in the last year,” Specht said. “There are people who come in there and their reward is making Tichora look better and being a part of a team.”

Over the last few months, due to the coronavirus pandemic, volunteers haven’t been able to go out in large groups. Still, Specht explained volunteers have been coming out individually to work on the property.

Even those enjoying Tichora for its natural wonder have done their part, picking up garbage they find hiking and leaving it in a dedicated trash pile near the property’s parking lot.

Overall, Eddy believes Tichora’s continued restoration is a testament to how land, water and people can benefit what can happen when people come together to strive for the common good.

“That’s what it’s about. It’s not just people benefiting, but it’s the land and the water that benefits too,” Eddy said. “That’s when we’re at our best, when we’re working together, and taking collective action for the common good.”