Stories about the Preserve
Discovering new things about an Old Friend: Friends of the Lakeshore Preserve Field trip on Lake Mendota — by Marj Rhine
For anyone who lives or works near Lake Mendota, or who enjoys strolling or birding at the Lakeshore Preserve, Lake Mendota is an old friend, its waters dotted with migrating birds in the spring and fall, a boating mecca in the summer, and an arena for ice-boating and other cold weather play in the winter. However, in a June 27, 2018 Friends of the Lakeshore fieldtrip out onto the lake guided by John Magnuson (professor emeritus of zoology and limnology and Founding Director of the UW-Madison Center of Limnology), participants learned some surprising new insights about this lake so central to Madison’s identity.
As we pulled out into the lake in our small Boston whaler, John at the wheel of our boat, he slowly swung the boat and killed the engine, inviting us to look back at the sweep of the shoreline we were leaving behind. The twelve participants had split into two groups; because the research vessel The Limnos was having some engine trouble, we were riding instead in these two smaller boats, skimming close to the lake’s gray waters on this overcast day. As we looked back at the shore, John directed our gaze to the way the landscape alters quite dramatically just before the Limnology Building, as the sightline shifts from the urbanized campus buildings visible on the left to the lush trees that mark the start of the preserve. This transition is a remarkable testament to the labor of love of many different people, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in Friends of the Lakeshore Preserve, who have struggled to preserve and restore this precious land, the three and a half miles of (relatively) undeveloped lake shoreline.
We next boated over to the other side of Picnic Point, to the northwest edge of the Lakeshore Preserve, where the two boats floated together to listen to John give us a glimpse of the lake’s history since the early nineteenth century. As he told how the army surgeon’s mate John Wakefield described the lake and landscape he saw in 1832 (traveling in the area during the Blackhawk wars), we could begin to imagine the wilder, woodsier and more marshy landscape that once defined this area. Through the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words, we could imagine a lake ringed with gold—the beaches that once circled the lake before water levels rose when the Yahara River was first damned for a grist mill in 1847. It was surprising to learn that core samples of the lake bed so visibly document the impact of this damming and raising of lake levels, showing how the previous whitish gray sediment of calcium carbonate, that once lined the lakebed in white, is now covered by a layer of blackish-brown sediment (under the current layer of organic muck) indicating the shoreline erosion that occurred after the damn was installed. John also invited participants to ponder various ecological issues: what is the value of leaving dead trees that fall into the lake, harboring the insects that attract fish? How does dredging historic deposits of phosphorus in tributary streams, from previous decades of agricultural fertilizer application, help control the lake’s frequent toxic algae outbursts?
We finished up this fascinating excursion with some fun-filled hands-on science. Boating close to a buoy that constantly collects up-to-the-minute scientific information, we used our cell phones to access the limnology department’s website to see the most current—less than two minutes earlier—report of various temperature and wind conditions. Volunteers used a collecting rake to pull up zebra mussels to examine, as well as various kinds of aquatic plants, including lettuce, coon tail and pond weed. We lowered a device that snaps shut at a lower level to collect the icy cold water resting farther below the surface. After one participant lowered a mesh funnel to collect plankton, we passed around jars to take a close look at these tiny plants and zooplankton swirling about in the water, the first steps in the lake’s rich and complex ecosystem.
I am grateful to John Magnuson for so generously sharing his expertise and experience, and to the Friends of the Lakeshore Preserve for organizing this outing. Getting the opportunity to know our old friend Lake Mendota in this new, more engaged way made me even more appreciative to live in this amazing landscape of our four lakes, more mindful of human impact, and more inspired by the people who devote their studies and time to preserving and restoring our stunning natural surroundings. This experience left me wishing more people in Madison will explore ways to both learn more about our lakes and natural spaces and be attentive to ways to help protect them, including volunteering at the Lakeshore Preserve!
Story and Photos by Marj Rhine - June 2018
Virtual Geocaching: an interactive walk
If you are into the booming app of Geocache and are in the mood for a beautiful hike in nature, this trail is for you. The preserve is a great opportunity for an amazing virtual geocache trail, with great views of Lake Mendota and pieces of the past that not many people know about. My name is Aaron, I am 12 and I decided to take it upon myself to make a great geocaching trail for everyone else, kids and adults alike to enjoy the preserve. I visit here all the time and I always enjoy walking around the preserve. I want other kids my age to enjoy the wonders of the preserve and because Geocaching is so popular I thought making a trail would be a great way to attract Geocachers. I would recommend this trail for anyone who loves nature, adventure and Geocaching.Click here to see main page.
Painting the Big Oak: a story unfolding
1Oth Anniversary of the Friends in 2011
My Photo walk at Frautschi Point
I'm a five year old boy and my grammy gave me a really nice red camera to photograph what I like on our walk. We went after a rainstorm, so I wore my boots. Then she made a book for me from my photos and added the words. Thank you Grammy.
"If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I would ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life." – Rachel Carson
The Preserve is a place where fond memories are made, where people connect to nature, where people learn to love natural things, like plants, birds, views, rocks, insects.