Humboldt Park Lagoon Restoration Project

May 2, 2018

Charles Liedtke captured this Great Egret at 8:45am on April 21. This is one of a pair that he saw on several occasions in April, when they were foraging in the Humboldt Park Lagoon. —Photo Charles Liedtke

Cattails and other invasives will be removed from two sections of the Humboldt Park Lagoon this spring, thanks to a $4,010 grant from the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust (Sweet Water). Humboldt Park Friends (HPF), a nonprofit volunteer group, is one of 14 groups that received a Sweet Water grant this year.

Members of HPF have been working with the Milwaukee County Parks Department and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to restore the four-acre lagoon in the center of the 73-acre park located in the heart of Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. HPF cleared cattails and other invasive plants from two sections of the shoreline in the autumn of 2016 and 2017, as part of a pilot project to improve the lagoon. Later this spring, volunteers will establish native plants in some areas of the cleared shoreline in an effort to control erosion and maintain the new unimpeded lagoon sightlines.

“About 15 years ago, cattails were introduced to control access to the lagoon by geese. The combination of insufficient cattail maintenance and the arrival of invasive species changed the lagoon from what it had been for more than 100 years,” said Timothy Richter, co-chair of the HPF Lagoon Committee. “During the past 10 years, cattails went from a few access points, to overtaking roughly 90 percent of the lagoon shoreline. In some areas, these plants extend 40 feet outward from the shoreline.”

The result was declining water quality and unfavorable conditions for fish survival. Excessive nutrients in the stagnant water and a layer of scum on the surface marred the water quality.

In 2016, HPF launched a pilot project to remove cattails and invasive species by cutting the cattails below the water level, depriving them of oxygen. The pilot project opened 30 feet of shoreline and it worked so well that HPF was permitted to expand the test area to clear an additional 50 feet of shoreline in autumn 2017.

“We received immediate, positive feedback from park visitors on the new vista created by the removal,” said Jane LeCapitaine, co-chair of the HPF Lagoon Committee. “It also sparked additional community interest in getting involved in the lagoon’s restoration. We’re looking for ways to share our resources and knowledge with other friends of the parks groups in Milwaukee County.”

The Milwaukee County Parks Department directed HPF to develop a plan to control erosion and run-off by planting native vegetation in the reclaimed sections of shoreline this year. The native plants will prevent excessive nutrients, like grass clippings, goose and other animal feces, dirt, and other materials that collect on the paved pathway from migrating to the lagoon. Results from the cattail removal and shoreline planting will be used in development of a long-term lagoon restoration plan and maintenance practices.

HPF received the first half of the $4,010 grant from Sweet Water during the annual Clean Rivers, Clean Lakes conference at Alverno College on April 26. The will receive the remainder after the shoreline planting is completed this summer. HPF plans to purchase native plants, additional equipment, and tools for reclaiming and restoring shoreline with the second half of the grant money.

Milwaukee County District 14 Supervisor Jason Haas, who represents the area, participated in both the cattail and invasive species removal last year. He said what HPF is doing is an excellent example of how volunteer groups can work together with county
employees to improve the parks system.

“The issues faced by Humboldt Park are not unique. Milwaukee County’s Parks System has more than 60 parks with ponds and lagoons with challenges including water quality, shoreline deterioration, and overgrowth from aggressive plants like cattails,” Haas said. “Other park friends groups are interested in restoration of their park lagoons. This pilot at Humboldt Park can serve as a demonstration project that can be replicated by other volunteer groups at other parks.”

Planting of native vegetation will take place between late April and June. Later this summer, Milwaukee Riverkeeper staff will sample the lagoon’s water quality, as part of its long-range restoration efforts. Additional cattail and invasive vegetation removal and shoreline restoration is planned for early October. To learn more or get involved, consult humboldtparkmilwaukee.org.

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