Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project
The Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project is the largest and most significant land project undertaken in the nearly 50-year history of Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. It 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.
Sustainable Stormwater Management
The Center’s highest quality natural area, the North Ravine is also the most threatened. Erosive stormwater has been downcutting the ravine for decades, a phenomenon that has only increased as our region has experienced more frequent and intense storms.
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, preventing stormwater runoff from entering Lake Michigan. Both beautiful and functional, the restored wetlands will essentially serve as a series of giant sponges. 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.
High-Quality Habitat Restoration
The wetlands will protect the ravine from rainfalls up to the 100-year storm, prevent stormwater runoff from entering Lake Michigan, and create habitat for myriad native species. More than 25,000 native seedlings, shrubs, and trees will be planted within the project area that will help stabilize the soil to reduce stormwater runoff into and through the ravine to Lake Michigan.
Native plant and animal species will thrive in the restored project 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. Restoration will also benefit several species of special concern—including rusty patched bumble bee (federally endangered), blue-stemmed goldenrod (Wisconsin – endangered), and 20 birds of greatest conservation need.
Visitor Access to Healthy Ecosystems
Part of Schlitz Audubon’s mission is to provide meaningful experiences and environmental education for all, and access for all visitors is a vital component of the project plan. More than a half-mile of wheelchair-friendly trails, boardwalks, and teaching decks will give our visitors unparalleled access to the enhanced habitats. Education programs will utilize our new wetlands as a key outdoor classroom where students and participants will learn about the water cycle, aquatic life, stormwater impacts and the values of biodiversity and ecosystem function. In addition to learning opportunities, the Water Path will provide visitors with more opportunities to simply connect with nature. If you would like to contribute toward building this trail system, please contact our Director of Development, Carrie Becker.
How will the project benefit visitors when it is complete?
The Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project will provide a richer and more diverse experience at the Center for all visitors. From students collecting pond creatures during field trip programming to hikers enjoying a moment of quiet contemplation, the finished project will provide new opportunities for all people to connect with nature in their own way.
How will this project support water conservation?
This project will measurably reduce sediment loading to the near shore waters of Lake Michigan by recreating the sponge-like qualities of Schlitz Audubon land. Restored wetland function will also benefit numerous native species that are otherwise declining with the loss of their habitats. Our project will also serve as a demonstration site of best practices for the management of stormwater and stabilization of rapidly growing ravines and gullies along the shores of Lake Michigan. It will also help restore water quality in the Great Lake.
How will this project benefit the Village of Bayside?
Project outcomes will support objectives for flow mediation and total suspended solids reduction identified in the 2009 Village of Bayside Stormwater Management Plan. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stormwater quality regulations require the Village to reduce the overall sediment loading (TSS) by 40% to continue discharging stormwater to the waters of the state. Protection and restoration of this important natural area will benefit current and future residents of Bayside by improving the quality of Lake Michigan water in our community.
Will this project accommodate future climate changes?
Increased frequency and intensity of storms associated with climate change is an important factor driving this project and informing its design. The 6.25 inches of rain that falls over a 24-hour period in the 100-year storm event was used as a target in determining the elevation of the three berms.
How will wildlife be affected during the project?
Schlitz Audubon received project approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to ensure that impact to wildlife, particularly species of concern, would be minimal. As part of the project, we will greatly enhance habitat quality through restoration to increase its productivity for native species.
The forested area in and around the North Ravine Lobe is part of the most significant natural area in the Village of Bayside. The 54-acre Schlitz Audubon Center/Doctor’s Park Woods and Beach Natural Area has been listed as a natural area of local significance by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. This area is also recognized as rare species habitat – supporting populations of rare, threatened, or endangered species officially designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
What is the project timeline?
Work on the ravine and wetland will commence in early August 2019, and run through mid-September. Post-construction restoration work and Water Path construction will start immediately after and run as long as weather allows. After a winter pause, restoration and trail construction will resume in spring 2020.
How will the project work affect visitors to the Center?
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.
Vital partners throughout the Greater Milwaukee community and beyond have rallied to support conservation by funding the Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration project. To date, Schlitz Audubon has received grants and pledges of support for the project from Brico Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Green Infrastructure Partnership Program, Fund for Lake Michigan, Freshwater Future, Brookby Foundation, Pentair Foundation, an anonymous corporate donor, and an anonymous private donor.
Miller Engineers & Scientists provided final design plans for the Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project and prepared and administered a construction bid package. Applied Ecological Services has been contracted to perform wetland construction and ravine restoration work.