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