A winter’s walk

January 20, 2014

What’s to see in Warner Park in winter? Lots.

Ice and shadows. The sculpture of the wild is much more evident now. At night, the moon and stars stand out better than almost anywhere in Madison.

Animals are foraging. American tree sparrows are gathering “weed” seeds in the meadow. Below the ice, fish are eating.

The park sounds different too. The wind through the bare branches, the creaking and groaning of ice and wood. The crackle of frozen grass and brush.

Tim Nelson, our chair, led a group on our first nature walk of the year on Jan. 19, checking bird nests, and tramping into the frozen marsh.

Lorraine Bose sent these photos from the walk, along her thanks for the work our nonprofit group does do “to keep Warner Wild!”

Our Madison Heritage Tree, the Bur Oak, has seen more than 250 winters on this spot. (Lorraine Bose)

Our Madison Heritage Tree, the Bur Oak, has seen more than 250 winters on this spot. (Lorraine Bose)

The wetland behind the dog park. The ice is safe now to walk around Warner's wetland. (Lorraine Bose)

The wetland behind the dog park. The ice is safe now to walk around Warner’s wetland. (Lorraine Bose)

Fireworks to Frogs: Warner Park’s fireworks island.

November 30, 2013

Tim Nelson, chair of Wild Warner, read the following letter to the Madison Board of Park Commissioners on Nov. 13, 2013:

On behalf of Wild Warner I want to thank Kevin Briski of the parks department for removing the earthen berm in the Warner Park wetland. Over the past twenty years, sand and fill dirt had been trucked in and mounded up to make a hill that was used for shooting fireworks. The city and DNR determined that the berm should be removed and the area returned to its former level.

 

The island cleared and scraped to original 1970s level when it was created from lagoon dredging. (Jim Carrier)

The shooting island hill after the 2013 fireworks display. This soil was tested by state and federal regulators and found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972. (Jim Carrier)

We also thank Russ Hefty for allowing us to help sow native plant seed in the cleared area. It will be a great experience to see in the next few years how this piece of land grows into a small prairie.

Lately there have been two bald eagles perching in the trees that you see in the background of the  photos.

Jack Hurst scatters prairie seeds on the wetland island in Warner Park. Thanks to Wild Warner, the area, used as the "shooting island" for Rhythm & Booms fireworks, will become a wetland area for wildlife. For the story, and more photos, click here to see our blog.

Jack Hurst scatters prairie seeds on the wetland island in Warner Park. Thanks to Wild Warner, the area, used as the “shooting island” for Rhythm & Booms fireworks, will become a wetland area for wildlife. For the story, and more photos, click here to see our blog.

Best Regards,
Tim Nelson, Wild Warner

New life for Warner Park’s wetland island

November 28, 2013

By Jim Carrier

Jack Hurst views the environment from the end of a fishing pole. He feels the tug of a biting pike, the nibbling of bluegills — and the numbing quiet of an empty hole.

Jack remembers when fishing was good in Warner Park.

Jack Hurst, right, talks with Wild Warner chair Tim Nelson on the shooting island in Warner Park.

Jack Hurst, right, talks with Wild Warner chair Tim Nelson on the shooting island in Warner Park.

“In the 1950s you used to be able to walk on the fish. There were no houses here, then,” said Hurst a lifelong conservationist and member of Wild Warner.

Once known as Castle Marsh the waters of Warner Park were described in 1953 by the Dane County Conservation League as “the last good spawning ground in Lake Mendota and the only natural rearing pond in the area.” It was a nursery for northern pike, large mouth bass, carp and bullheads. In 1955 the Wisconsin Conservation Department bought 13 acres of the marsh to protect the nursery.

Nearly 1,000 acres of Madison's Northside drains into Lake Mendota through Warner Park, whose wetland acts as a screen and sponge. The result is a polluted and degraded wetland.

Nearly 1,000 acres of Madison’s Northside drains into Lake Mendota through Warner Park, whose wetland acts as a screen and sponge, polluting and degrading the wetland.

But over the years Hurst watched its demise. Suburban development brought storm runoff, salt, leaves and pesticides, while the park was drained and filled for ball fields and parking lots. The waters of Warner Park became the de facto dumping ground for Northside development, draining nearly 1,000 acres (949.5) and acting as a sieve before water flowed into Lake Mendota.

“Madison’s lakes are like a heart, and the marshes like Warner are the heart’s arteries. You destroy the arteries, you destroy the heart,” Jack once told the Parks Commission.

Madison either forgot or ignored the fact that Warner’s 60-acre marsh was an official wetland, protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act. This amnesia was evident when the park was chosen for Rhythm & Booms in 1992. A small “island” created by dredging in the 1970s became the “shooting island,” with fireworks aimed over the wetland. This arrangement protected crowds, dampened fires, and buried chemicals, cardboard, wires and fuse.

In 2005 Rhythm & Booms workers spread dirt to build a fireworks launching pad (Photo by Jack Hurst)

In 2005 Rhythm & Booms workers spread dirt to build a fireworks launching pad (Jack Hurst)

They also brought in tons of dirt to bury the mortars. Afterward, the sand was pushed to the edge and, often, into water. After 20 years the accumulated soil had grown into a sizable hill.

A sizeable hill was created in the middle of the island to launch fireworks (Trish O'Kane)

A sizeable hill was created in the middle of the island to launch fireworks (Trish O’Kane)

Hurst and other members of Wild Warner asked the city to study fireworks pollution. The 2012 study, sponsored by Alder Anita Weier, concluded that the fireworks had a measurable effect on the environment from heavy metals and perchlorate.

Rhythm & Booms fireworks in 2010 launched from the wetland "shooting island" into Warner Park polluted the water and plants with chemicals and debris. (Jim Carrier)

Rhythm & Booms fireworks in 2010 launched from the wetland “shooting island” into Warner Park polluted the water and plants with chemicals and debris. (Jim Carrier)

Wild Warner also petitioned the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources to investigate. In the spring of 2013 they took core samples and determined that the city had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping fill in a wetland without a permit. They required the city to remove the soil and return the island to its 1970s level.

The shooting island hill after the 2013 fireworks display. This soil was tested by state and federal regulators and found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972. (Jim Carrier)

The shooting island hill after the 2013 fireworks display. This soil was tested by state and federal regulators and found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972. (Jim Carrier)

Nearly 200 truckloads, including sand, topsoil and concrete chunks, were hauled to Cherokee Marsh.

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Crews from the Madison Parks Department worked for two weeks to excavate the hill, and haul it to Cherokee Marsh.

Crews from the Madison Parks Department worked for two weeks to excavate the hill.

The island cleared and scraped to original 1970s level when it was created from lagoon dredging. (Jim Carrier)

The island was cleared and scraped to original 1970s level when it was created from lagoon dredging. (Jim Carrier)

On November 7, Jack Hurst put on boots, dipped his hand into a bucket of native wild flower seeds provided by the Parks Department, and with other Wild Warner volunteers, began scattering them across the island.

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Karen Hickel (top) and Deb Riese scatter wildlife seeds. (Jim Carrier)

Karen Hickel (top) and Deb Riese scatter wildlife seeds.

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Wild Warner seed sowers, from left: Paul Noeldner, Mike Rewey, city conservation resource supervisor Russ Hefty, Tim Nelson, Karen Hickel, Trish O’Kane, Deb Riese and Jack Hurst (Jim Carrier)

In the spring, flowers will rise, birds and turtles will return, and the former “shooting island” will become a wetland sanctuary. Jack Hurst hopes that some day the fish will be back, too.

The flower mix planted on the wetland island, supplied by city parks and conservation officer Russ Hefty

The flower mix planted on the wetland island, supplied by city parks conservation resource officer Russ Hefty

Russ Hefty described the benefit of planting this seed mix in the wetland:

 

As if to support the idea, a bald eagle surveyed the work from the cottonwood trees nearby. We took it as a sign – a return of our nation’s symbol.

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A bald eagle watched Wild Warner volunteers seed the wetland island. (Paul Noeldner)

A bald eagle watched Wild Warner volunteers seed the wetland island. (Paul Noeldner)

Eagle pair spotted in park – Rob Petershack

October 17, 2013

Rob Petershack, an attorney and amateur photographer, visits Warner Park periodically in search of good photos.

On September 30, he caught this blue heron in the wetland. Herons, as he notes on his distinctive Web site, Points of View, do a lot of standing around.warner-park-september-30-2013-214-editBut on the same outing, September 30, he was standing at this spot (x), when he spotted an eagle circling overhead.

X Marks Location of Eagles in Warner Park

As he stated on his site, I wasn’t ready for it since I had been focused on wildlife in the water – i.e., manual focus on a tripod with stabilization off while using remote shutter release. The bald eagle came down to land in a tree faster than I expected. I got one barely worthwhile interesting shot. Here it is, still rather so-so after quite a bit of clean up:

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But then, low and behold, the eagle landed next to a mate.

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If you would like to follow Rob’s photo blog, you can go to his site, and enter your email. There is also a pulldown menu at the top of the blog entitled “Nature” which contains sets of photos. All photos here are copyrighted by Rob Petershack. We thank Rob for letting us borrow them.

 

The wetland border is alive!

August 11, 2013

When photographer Patrick Noyes walked along the edge of Warner Park’s lagoons with his Samsung Note 2 phone, his eye caught beauty and bugs galore.

Warner Park is in full bloom, especially in the flora around the wetland. The green barrier around the water keeps geese out of the lawn, but also provides beauty and a nourishing landscape for countless insects. For some closeups at this wildlife, take a look at our blog (Photo by Patrick Noyes)

Seen as “weeds” by some, this border of grasses and shrubs was allowed to grow by the Parks Department primarily to create a natural barrier to Canada geese, who fear walking where they cannot see predators. This, along with oiling of geese eggs by volunteers, has dramatically reduced the annoying geese droppings on sidewalks and mowed lawn.

But this growth is also a wonderful, wild addition to the flora and fauna of the park, attracting a myriad of bugs, bees and critters.

The flora barrier is also favored by fish for its shade and food.

If you can identify the bugs (including a mating pair) send us an email.

What have you seen in the meadow and wetland growth?

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These mating bugs are Goldenrod Soldier Beetles. They are related to Fireflies and are popular with organic gardeners because they feed on nectar, help pollinate Goldenrod and other native prairie flowers, eat other insects and do not damage plants. (Paul Noeldner)

see http://wimastergardener.org/?q=GoldenrodSoldierBeetle. )

DNR says Rhythm & Booms violated Clean Water Act

July 24, 2013

Controversial Rhythm and Booms fireworks show violated wetlands law, state DNR says

By Pat Schneider    Capitol Times July 17, 2013

As speculation swirled this week that the city of Madison was poised to announce it is moving the annual Rhythm & Booms fireworks spectacular from Warner Park, the state confirmed Tuesday that the city has violated wetland protection laws — apparently for years — in staging the event at the park’s lagoon.

The practice of trucking in tons of sand to a lagoon island to help aim fireworks mortars and absorb their impact violates state law requiring a permit to put fill into a wetland, said Mark Aquino, regional director of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Exactly how long Rhythm & Booms practices violated state law, Aquino could not say. “We were only aware of this because a citizen group complained. That’s why we started looking at it,’ he said.

Wild Warner Park, a grassroots group that has advocated for moving the fireworks display from the lagoon because of its impact on adjacent wetlands, filed a complaint with the DNR in February.

The extent of environmental damage to the wetlands will not be known until DNR maps out what wetlands remain after a half-century of man-made changes to the lagoon area, Aquino said. In the meantime the city Parks Department and the contracted fireworks provider, J&M Displays of Yarmouth, Iowa, have been working with DNR on a plan to mitigate damage to the wetlands, Aquino said. No citations are anticipated, he added.

Mayor Paul Soglin has scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Wednesday with Rhythm & Booms organizer Madison Festivals Inc. at the Madison Hilton on Lake Monona, but officials have been tight-lipped on what the announcement will be. After several years of controversy over the fireworks festival’s impact on Warner Park and its north-side neighborhood resulted in a pared-down event this year, there has been quite a bit of speculation about a new location.

Aquino said that the state did not order the city to stop fireworks displays at the Warner Park lagoon. To lawfully bring in sand or any other fill to a protected wetland area like the lagoon, operators must apply for a permit from the DNR. The agency may issue a permit, impose conditions or deny a permit, he said.

Aquino said he could not hazard a guess on whether a permit would have been granted for Rhythm & Booms if an application had been made as the law requires.

For the Rhythm & Booms fireworks display earlier this month — reduced in duration and firepower — 10 truckloads of sand were brought in, Aquino said. He didn’t know how much sand was brought in for past years’ displays, he said.

After more than 20 years organizing the fireworks show, Terry Kelly, president of the nonprofit Madison Fireworks Inc., in March handed over the event to Madison Festivals Inc. The live bands and beer tents that in past years helped draw 100,000 people or more — prompting complaints of traffic, congestion and crime from neighborhood residents — were dropped this year.

Madison Parks spokesperson Laura Whitmore confirmed Tuesday that the department is working with the DNR on a mitigation plan. In response to an inquiry on why an agency that routinely gets DNR permits for parkland projects did not do so for Rhythm & Booms, Whitmore replied in an email that staff met with the DNR this year to plan for the use of sand and its removal.

“In the 20 or so years of Rhythm & Booms, there is no history of obtaining a permit for the sand for this event,” Whitmore said.

Jim Carrier, a founder of Wild Warner Park, said his group is not against fireworks, just fireworks in wetlands.

“We have proven over the past two years that Rhythm & Booms pollutes,” said Carrier. “They were creating this great show, but they were breaking the law doing it.”

After a city-funded study found debris and contaminants left by the fireworks, Wild Warner Park lobbied the city earlier this year to end the display. Although further study was supported by some city officials, others said that the advocacy group exaggerated the study’s findings.

Carrier said his group is asking city officials to support development of a wetland education center on the island from which the fireworks have been launched. He presented a plan for the center earlier this month to the Board of Park Commissioners.

The proposal would expand on Wild Warner Park’s mostly informal programs to introduce neighborhood kids – many from low-income families – to the park’s pockets of “wild” flora and fauna.

“Kids could walk across the street and see the magic of a wetland; watch the turtles nest, see the birds mate. We’re asking the Parks Department to work with us on this new vision. That’s what we’re asking for in terms of mitigation,” Carrier said.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/writers/pat_schneider/controversial-rhythm-and-booms-fireworks-show-violated-wetlands-law-state/article_7ebf457e-ee71-11e2-803b-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz2Zzs9xHEf

Let’s make Warner Park a wetland education center

July 13, 2013

By Jim Carrier, cofounder of Wild Warner

The following was presented to the Madison Board of Parks Commissioners on July 10. It represents a new vision for Warner Park’s wetland.
I wanted to bring you up to date on Warner Park and Rhythm & Booms.
As you know, Wild Warner objects to the use of Warner’s wetland as a site for fireworks. We’ve documented the pollution. I’ve been told that this year may be the last year in Warner. I wanted to brief you on what we found this year, and what we propose going forward. I’ve given you several pages of photos that you can follow along:
Warner wetland drainage area
1. Warner’s wetland is 60 acres in size. It collects storm water from an enormous watershed  – nearly 1,000 acres of Madison’s northeast corner. (958 acres). Were it not for this sponge, Lake Mendota would have a murky, polluted delta on its eastern shore. Warner’s wetland, in other words, is doing what wetlands have always done. The down side, of course, is that the wetland is degraded. It is filling up with debris. It is polluted with heavy metals and pesticides, not to mention plastic bottles. There is little we can do about this. At least with present technology. No more than we can move the railroad which blocked the lake from the old swamp a century ago, except for one 10-foot tunnel.

1. Warner Wetland:Shooting Island

2. Here on top, is DNR’s wetland map. And below that is an aerial photograph of an island that was created half a century ago when the city dredged the swamp.

2. Shooting Island 2005-2011

3. These photos show that island in 2005 (top), and again in 2011. (bottom) What has changed, is tons of sand that were brought in to bunker the large mortars, 8,10, 12 inches across, used by Rhythm & Booms. They required 3 feet of sand to fortify and aim them into the wetland.

3. R&B Fireworks 2011

4. These photos show the hill, and a typical fireworks show (2011). The problem was, R&B was bringing fill into a wetland without a permit. We brought this to the attention of DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers. They inspected and have determined that R&B and the city have been violating the Clean Water Act for years. So this year DNR required that any sand brought in, must be taken out after the show.

4. Warner Wetland July 4, 2013
5. These photos show some of the debris from this year’s just off the shooting island. There were at least 20 of these large 11-inch orange caps from the mortars in the water, along with ropes and fuses used to assemble the bombs.

5. Sand and debris mountain July 7, 2013

6. With these photos, you get an idea, at the top, of the size of the sand mountain that has been built over the years. It is 10 feet high, 350 feet around, 90 feet wide and 150 feet long. At the bottom is this year’s sand mixed with the charred dirt left from the fireworks.You can see the black soil on the next page.

6. Black soil July 1-7, 2013_1

7. We have asked DNR, and they say they will require the city, to remove this sand mountain, as mitigation for the years of violation.

7. Warner Park's future wetland
8. These last photos show a bit of our vision. Though degraded by storm water, and other pollution, Warner’s wetland is the heart of a natural area that supports 135 species of birds, turtles – including the threatened Blanding’s species – amphibians, fish and mammals. It is deserving of the respect and legal protection of our marquee wetlands.

The difference is that kids from the housing projects can walk across the street and be in a wetland. We would like the city to help us turn the “shooting island” into a “wetland education island” where kids can watch turtles lay eggs, they can help plant wetland plants, they can fish, they can watch birds, they can learn about nature – and the value of wetlands – all from a resurrected island surrounded by water.

 

A bluebird funeral, and hope for more

July 12, 2013

Trish O'Kane and Paul Noeldner cleaned out a failed bluebird nest, and refreshed it with hopes of attracting another family. (Paul Noeldner)

Trish O’Kane and Paul Noeldner cleaned out a failed bluebird nest, and refreshed it with hopes of attracting another family. (Paul Noeldner)

By Paul Noeldner

Four nestlings that had sadly succumbed to black flies were buried next door under a newly planted Prairie Purple Cone Flower. The roof has a recently installed fishline House Sparrow perching deterrant. A crack in the door was repaired to limit access points for bugs. The inside has just been sprayed with a natural Cedarcide concentrate to discourage bugs. To help keep out future black fly invasions, drops of Vanilla Extract were applied on the door and vent openings. According to Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin expert Pat Ready who helped with advice on the above improvements, Bluebirds will do second or third nesting attempts through the latter part of July. A Papa Bluebird came and perched on a box right afterward to enjoy the new home smell!

Paul Noeldner of Wild Warner and the Madison Audubon Society supervises and maintains 15 bluebird trails in Madison.

July 4, 2013 – the morning after Rhythm & Booms

July 4, 2013

On July 4, Wild Warner cofounder Jim Carrier talked about the science and law of Rhythm & Boom on WORT-FM. Reporter Julia Chechvala interviewed Jim on The Perpetual Notion Machine. The program can be heard here:

Warner’s wetland: facing challenges with high potential for rehabilitation

July 1, 2013

On the eve of Rhythm & Booms, a Wisconsin wetland expert toured Warner Park’s wetland, and declared it beautiful, vital and worth the effort to rehabilitate it. Wild Warner opposes the pollution of this wetland by the city’s largest fireworks show.

Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, toured Warner Park's wetland June 29 with Tim Nelson, president of Wild Warner.

Tracy Hames, left, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, toured Warner Park’s wetland June 29 with Tim Nelson, president of Wild Warner.

Though dominated by an overgrowth of “hybrid cattail,” the wetland includes “large patches of amazingly high quality” vegetation. The wetland is the lifeblood of Warner’s “wild side.” Although degraded by years of storm runoff, Warner’s wetland is serving double duty as a sponge for pollutants and home to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Here is his report:

Thanks for taking me out yesterday to explore beautiful Warner Park.  Until yesterday, I was only familiar with the ball park at Warner, and did not know about its wild side.  I am very impressed with the work of Wild Warner calling attention to the beauty and diversity of Warner Park.  This is truly a community-based effort to protect and restore the wetland and upland habitats of the park for the benefit of a large and diverse number of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Tracy Hames, left, with Tim Nelson

Tracy Hames, left, with Tim Nelson

Your vision of maintaining a mixture of untouched and managed areas in the park is admirable and achievable.  The mixture of “wild” and “tamed” areas in the park will maximize the community benefits for the neighborhood by providing areas for recreation and relaxation combined with educational opportunities.  Natural areas are rare but vital components of intensively urban environments.  When they are protected and maintained they provide a window to the natural world for local youth that would not otherwise exist.  I was inspired by the passion and conviction that you and Tim have for Warner Park, and the success you have had in raising awareness of the wild side of Warner Park among your fellow park-side neighbors.
 
I was also pleasantly surprised by the extent and quality of the wetland resources of the park.  When I arrived, I expected a highly degraded wetland area with very little native vegetation.  What I found was a wetland that certainly is facing some difficult challenges, but one that also has hope for improvement given a little TLC.  Hybrid cattail communities dominate a large portion of the shallow water wetland areas, but there are some large patches of amazingly high quality vegetative communities still holding on.

 

This patch of health wetland, with burweed, arrowhead and bulrush, envelop Wild Warner president Tim Nelson. Plant life was crawling with snails - a candy store or wildlife. This habitat provides food and shelter or a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and mammals.

This patch of healthy wetland, with burreed, arrowhead and bulrush, envelops Wild Warner president Tim Nelson. Plant life was crawling with snails – a candy store for wildlife. This habitat provides food and shelter for a wide variety of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

The burreed/arrowhead/bulrush-dominated emergent wetland area we discovered is an example of the potential of the Warner Park wetlands.  Cattail control efforts may help this emergent vegetation community expand into more of the shallow water areas.  An expansion of this vegetative community will greatly increase the wildlife habitat value of the Warner Park wetlands.  I hope you will consider some of the cattail control methods we discussed while paddling through the area.
 
The activities of Wild Warner represent a community-based effort by people taking responsibility for the wetland resources of their neighborhood.  Wisconsin Wetlands Association recognizes the importance of these community-based efforts for producing sustainable, cost-effective, and real-world wetland benefits.  I will be using you as an example of the good things that happen when neighbors get together for the betterment of the wetlands of their communities.  You truly are an inspiration to me – keep up the good work!

Tracy Hames, executive director, Wisconsin Wetlands Association

 

 

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