On August 1, the largest and most significant land project undertaken in the nearly 50-year history of Schlitz Audubon Nature Center will begin. The Stormwater Wetland and Ravine Restoration Project will dramatically reduce the impact extreme storms have on our 185-acre property. It will also improve the quality of the stormwater flowing into Lake Michigan, as well as catalyze the Center’s efforts to educate the public on the importance of water conservation.
The main goals of the project are to achieve sustainable stormwater management, high-quality habitat restoration, and visitor access to a healthy wetland ecosystem. When the project is complete, a Water Path trail system will offer a wheelchair-accessible network of limestone pathways, boardwalks, and teaching decks that will take visitors and students over two new ponds, alongside a restored ravine, and through wet prairie.
The Center’s highest quality natural area, the North Ravine is also the most threatened. Erosive stormwater has been undercutting the ravine for decades, a phenomenon that has only increased as our region has experienced more frequent and intense storms. In the last couple of years alone, mature Sugar Maple and Red Oak trees have been undercut and collapsed into the expanding north ravine gully. Such losses will only accelerate if we didn’t act now.
With a footprint of more than 20 acres, the Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project will protect and fortify the North Ravine while enhancing adjacent wetland habitats to capture water. Both beautiful and functional, the restored wetlands will essentially serve as a series of giant sponges, providing a natural path to catch and purify stormwater before it reaches the ravine. The project will also employ regenerative stormwater conveyance, a forward-thinking design that incorporates natural stream channel cascade aesthetics to convey and purify water as it flows into the ravine. The wetlands will protect the ravine from rainfalls up to the 100-year storm.
The first phase of the project is scheduled to take six weeks to complete. During this construction phase, three berms will be created, which will keep stormwater in the wetlands instead of flowing through the ravine. We will also excavate two ponds, stabilize the north ravine, build a regenerative stormwater conveyance system, and more. This phase will establish wetlands that will provide valuable services to the land.
Native species will thrive in our new wetlands area. A Blanding’s Turtle breeding mound will flank one of the new wetlands, Milk Snakes will be introduced into a new hibernaculum, and we anticipate Leopard Frogs, Fairy Shrimp, and many benthic invertebrates will flourish in the new aquatic habitats.
The project area covers only a small fraction—about 12%—of the Center grounds. We will do our best to minimize impacts to Center visitors, and we do ask visitors to respect all temporary trail closure signs during construction. There are plenty of other places on the Center’s 185 acres for visitors to experience, including Mystery Lake, the West Meadows, and the shores of Lake Michigan.