County Executive Joe Parisi joined community partners in the Town of Verona this week to announce that Dane County will acquire 160 acres of property to help prevent flooding, protect water resources, and create more outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.
Located between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Sugar River Wetlands Natural Resource Area and Dane County’s Falk Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area, the property has suffered from wet conditions in recent years, and converting this property to natural prairie is expected to help with stormwater control. Once the property is fully restored, runoff will be reduced by 70 percent, infiltrating 2,057,000 gallons of water annually.
“By purchasing this property and restoring it prairie, we will be able to reduce flood risk downstream in communities like Belleville, which have experienced flooding along the Sugar River in recent years,” said County Executive Parisi. “This property will also provide recreational opportunities, including fishing and paddling, within the popular Sugar River corridor. We thank the Rhiner family for allowing Dane County to acquire this land and carry out these important conservation efforts.”
The property is located in both the Badger Mill Natural Resource Area and the Sugar River Natural Resource Area boundaries. It contains approximately 1,935 feet of two bank frontage along Badger Mill Creek and 1,775 feet on the Sugar River. The confluence of the two streams sits in the southern portion of the property, and both are classified as Tier I Stream Projects in the 2018 — 2023 Dane County Parks & Open Space Plan.
Acquisition of this $3 million property will protect these water resources from future development and allow restoration on these stretches of stream. The future conversion of croplands to prairie will reduce the amount of runoff into the streams, providing groundwater protection and improved water quality. Restoration will also enhance wetland functions, enabling more floodwater storage while also providing improved fish and wildlife habitat.
“Our Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited strongly supports Dane County’s purchase of the Rhiner farm on Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River. Both are excellent trout streams,” said Jim Hess, President of the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “This purchase will enable the public to enjoy that fishing and Dane County to keep those waters in excellent shape. SWTU is eager to help in that effort. Over time this land will be restored to wonderful wildlife habitat and offer many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Over two decades ago, SWTU worked with the Rhiner family to protect Badger Mill Creek. We are incredibly grateful for the Rhiner family’s conservation ethic. We also thank Dane County Executive Joe Parisi for this magnificent act of conservation.”
The majority of the property is active croplands along with a 4-acre farmstead area and some pasture and grasslands. The land bordering the streams is designated wetland, and this southern portion of the property has experienced flooding in the past. The Rhiner family will reside at the property and continue cropping for the next two years. Overtime, Dane County and its partners will restore the landscape with a focus on grassland habitat for the benefit of declining grassland birds and animals, rare and endangered native plants, and invertebrates and pollinators that depend on native vegetation.
Dane County and its partners have been working to increase access along the Sugar River and surrounding lands, and several key purchases have been made in recent years — including over 400 acres at the Falk/Wells Wildlife Area near Paoli, an additional 101 acres at the former Neperud property near Basco, and 61 acres at the former Ziegler property. Two sections of the Sugar River were also restored by Dane County, the Department of Natural Resources, and Trout Unlimited in the summers of 2017 and 2019. Earlier this year, County Executive Parisi announced 1,450 feet of undeveloped streambank along the Sugar River would be made available for public fishing access in the Town of Montrose.
Dane County will also partner with the City of Verona on the restoration of Badger Mill Creek on a separate but related project. The restoration work will occur upstream in the Ice Age Junction Natural Resource Area and will be done in concert with construction of a replacement sanitary sewer interceptor. Project goals include reestablishing the historic connection between the creek and its floodplain, improving instream habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and improving regional trail connections, including the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. SWTU will support the restoration work through a donation of $5,000. Work is expected to start this fall and will be ongoing into 2021. Dane County will purchase the $3 million property with funds from the Flood Risk Reduction Fund and the Dane County Conservation Fund. A resolution to approve the purchase was introduced at last Thursday’s County Board meeting. It is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.