The Class of 1918 Marsh “Symposium” led by John Magnuson
Nineteen attendees appeared on this rainy afternoon to learn the history, nature, evolution and challenges of the Class of 1918 Marsh with the skilled educator John Magnuson, Director Emeritus of the UW Center for Limnology. The turnout included several wetland experts, and the tour became a symposium with their frequent contributions and discussions with John and the group.This Marsh, lying between the UW Hospital complex and Picnic Point, faces probably the most severe challenges of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve’s ecosystems.
John Magnuson explained how the marsh water and ecology are challenged by road salt runoff, primarily from
Sedge expert Libby Zimmerman identified an Eleocharis species and several species of Carex, including bottlebrush sedge. She explained how reed canary grass, which is planted to reduce erosion and stabilize stream banks, forms rhizomes, making the invasive plant difficult to remove. At the “pier” on the east side, a thick stand of cattails, fronted by reed canary grass, prevents easy access to the Marsh’s open water. In the early 1970s, Libby’s husband, the late Jim Zimmerman, spearheaded the movement to restore the Marsh.
David Liebl, an expert on stormwater runoff management, explained how storm water drains, from the Medical Research buildings and Children’s Hospital roofs, into the Marsh’s south inlet, and how another storm sewer, beneath the pavement we stood on, serves as an underground river connecting the Marsh to other campus water bodies, including the Pharmacy School pond. Dave reported that the highest salt contributor to the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District is actually from our home water softeners, and recommended replacement of time-based softeners with models that soften relative to water usage.
Roma Lenehan, birding expert, distributed copies of her checklists of the Preserve birds. During the walk, she pointed out
Photographer Arlene Koziol documented the activities.
The tour concluded at the observation deck on the north side of the Marsh, where we could barely view the pond beyond the wildly hybridizing cattails that have steadily grown over the past 40 years into the Marsh’s open water. There John discussed some of the strategies to restore and sustain this urban wetland gem, including dredging, cutting cattails and fluctuating the Marsh water level (low in winter, high in spring). John bemoaned the fact that he had not seen a muskrat in the Marsh in years, because they could consume cattails. Suddenly, Libby spied a young muskrat, in the marsh below the railing, nibbling on a cattail leaf. While we watched, a second baby muskrat emerged from a nearby watery hole. And then a third, a fourth and a fifth! We were all enchanted with the little muskrats, eating the cattails. What a glorious finish to this very satisfying “symposium”! Report by Friends host Doris Dubielzig
This tour of cultural landscapes on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison was led by Aaron Bird Bear, Assistant Dean for Student Diversity Programs in the School of Education. Aaron Bird Bear has ancestry among the Diné and is an enrolled citizen of the three affiliated tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara).
The walk began at the Memorial Union, at the second floor foyer of the main lounge, the original main entrance to the building. Fourteen of us listened as Aaron Bird Bear began with an introduction to the over 12,000 years of human occupation of the lands of UW-Madison, which is located on the traditional homelands of the Ho-Chunk Nation. At the entrance to the Memorial Union we learned about a part of UW-Madison history that is still little known even to long-term members of the community: the “pipe of peace” rituals that accompanied graduation ceremonies from l89l to l940. In these peace pipe events, large groups of European-American students pretended to be Native Americans, using stereotypes of rituals, regalia, and dialect. The Memorial Union was built in the middle of the early 20THCentury period of dominance of these ceremonies, and the peace pipe was featured in the official seal of the Union. In addition to hearing about these strange and nearly forgotten peace pipe rituals we also looked up at the ceiling of the foyer at the paintings of a dozen Indian warriors with feather headdresses, yet another stereotypical example of how Indigenous peoples were depicted at the time the Memorial Union was built.
We learned that Picnic Point includes the oldest evidence of human occupation in the local area (Dejope, name meaning “four lakes” in the Ho-Chunk language). Picnic Point includes evidence of human occupation at least l2,000 years ago, when the four lakes were a connected into one larger lake.
We made stops at two of the historical markers on campus, beside North Hall and Social Sciences. At each of these we discussed how these markers depict local and regional history through the point of view of white settlers, not of Indigenous peoples. The emphasis of these plaques is on the settlers’ "hard experience of colonizing the rugged west" and that Black Hawk “retreated” while being “pursued” by militia through the area in 1832, both plaques ignoring the long occupation of the area by the Ho-Chunk nation.
Aaron summarized the history of the forced treaties from 1829 to 1837 that were intended to remove the Ho-Chunk people from Wisconsin. White settlers first wanted the lead mines of the Ho-Chunk, and later their agricultural land as well. Despite several forced marches of Ho-Chunk people to different areas west of the Mississippi, many of them kept resisting by coming back to their ancestral homelands in Wisconsin, where Ho-Chunk people continue to live today.
Overlooking Lake Mendota on Observatory Hill, we learned that the current forested areas along the shore are a recent change. Previously the area was much more open, as it was maintained by Indigenous people as a bur oak savanna by fire ecology. A number of bur oaks exist on campus that are old enough to have begun their lives while the Ho-Chunk were maintaining the land as savanna.
We ended the tour at the effigy mounds at the western end of Observatory hill. These are a couple of the extant mounds on the lands of UW-Madison; many of the mounds having been destroyed in the construction of campus buildings. Although marred by sidewalks, the two effigy mounds can easily be seen on observatory hill, a large bird effigy and a unique two-tailed water spirit (previously labeled a two-tailed turtle in some sources). Here we learned more about the history of mound building over more than 2000 years in Wisconsin, and the destruction of most of the mounds in the few centuries since the arrival of European Americans in the area. We came away with a much better understanding of the history of campus lands.
Images of the Observatory Hill mound group, including historical images of the two-tailed water spirit can be found here: http://www.wisconsinmounds.com/ObservatoryHillMounds.html. More information about >12,000 years of Indigenous history at the preserve can be found here: https://lakeshorepreserve.wisc.edu/native-americans-and-the-preserve/. Summary prepared by the Friends host Eve Emshwiller.
Dave Harring, aka Captain Dave, helped lead the not-quite-three-hour tour with emeritus professor John Magnuson, former director of the UW Center for Limnology, using two boats for the group of twelve. Both were tremendous hosts with an outpouring of joy and sharing their love of the lake with us. As in previous years, they surveyed the entire lake edge of the Preserve. Magnuson discussed the history, geology, flora and fauna observed along the shore, as well as writings about Lake Mendota, research and many more subjects.
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