For the volunteers who spent a good number of hours this spring helping us restore social trails and clear brush and invasives from beauty spots along the trails, this is when you get to see the fruits of your labor!
One of our spring goals at Devil’s Lake State Park was to clear up the fallen wood and invasive plants along all the bridges on the Stienke Basin and Uplands Trails. These once beautiful little locations along the small rivulets and streams of Steinke Basin had over the years become just bridges over brambles, sometimes so thick you couldn’t see the streams!! Fallen trees had piled up and not been removed. Invasive buckthorn, honeysuckle, and Japanese barberry fought for sunlight through the dead wood and garlic mustard filled in the rest.
Before the bramble got out of control this spring, volunteers working with the park’s naturalist, got out into these areas and got to work, pulling, cutting and hauling. by hitting it in the spring, they made room for native plants to once again fill in along the streams by summer.
Nature is not, of course, a freshly mowed lawn. While pulling invasives and removing most of the wood, some dead wood was also left behind as homes for various critters and insects and of course food sources for other animals farther up the food chain!
My personal “white whale” at Devil’s Lake was the area around the large bridge out on the Steinke Basin trail & rescue road. As a photographer, seeing this beautiful little cascade become lost under fallen wood and brush was sad. It was a great experience to be out working this spring with a bunch of folks who wanted this little beauty spot restored as well! Check out the picture at the top of this post to see how it looks today!!
The other real problem we’re seeing at Devil’s Lake State Park are social trails. These are spots along the main trails where large numbers of hikers are wearing paths through the woods as shortcuts, to see or access other “off-trail” locations, or just to get around traffic jams on busy days. This is not to condemn off-trail hiking per se. The problem arises when large numbers of people all tread on exactly the same track through the forest they kill everything under their feet and spread invasive plants deep into the forest. This IS a problem. At Devil’s Lake State Park some of these “social trails” are even causing visitors and casual hikers to get lost because they are unable to tell official trails from social trails!
To solve this problem the park naturalist met with various leaders in the hiking, bouldering & climbing communities to work with them to understand their needs and popular access points. Together with them and other interested parties, they decided which social trails could be closed while still accommodating their needs.
It should be said too, that there were others who said, the whole idea of restoring the damaged areas was stupid because no one would respect what we were trying to do, no one reads signs, etc. So the voice of the “out-of-sight, out of mind, don’t care, don’t bother” crowd was heard as well. I’m reminded of the old adage, “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” Happily, we have a good number of leaders out there!
The focus this spring was along the West Bluff Trail. Volunteers with the Nature Center, Good Land Guides and others worked to fill the social trails with fallen wood and post signs. Again, now is the time when we can see the fruits of our labor!
We’ve been impressed how quickly nature begins to recover once people stop walking on it! Sure, there are some areas where people walked over and sometimes even removed our work completely, so we’ll have to go back. All in all though, when we are consistent and with the support of so many park visitors who respect our efforts and stay on the trails, we’re making a difference. What often looked like an ugly pile of wood stacked on mud this spring, now looks like a pretty standard forest floor.
Another project we’re working on is Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area. Park staff has jumped into this one with chainsaws loaded and removed a ton of wood from the pool below the waterfall and other problem areas. Again social trails are being closed off as well.
What is, in my opinion, the most important restoration issue in Parfrey’s are the slopes on each side of the waterfalls that have been completely denuded. The natural ground cover is gone due to crowds of folks going off trail here and hiking up and over the cliffs. Even going so far as having campfires atop the glen. This area is and has always been closed within the natural area. New signs are being posted as a reminder as well.
Remember, a “Natural Area” is not a park. You must stay in designated areas to protect the rare plant and animal life within this unique ecosystem.
Would You Like To Help?
This fall we will again be working with the nature center to hold volunteer days within Devil’s Lake & at Parfrey’s Glen to work on various restoration projects. If you’d like to join us, just contact the park naturalist and let her know you’d like to help. She can get you on the list and let you know when we’ll be working to keep our natural areas beautiful!
Contact Sue Johansen, Park Naturalist
(608) 356-8301 Ext. 140
Lastly, let me get in a big THANK YOU to everyone who’s volunteered this year. You’ve made a real difference!