Restoration plans

Dane County’s Land & Water Resources Department shares a concept plan for the Pheasant Branch restoration project, which will take place over a 4-year period.

Dane County has taken the next steps in its restoration project at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, announcing last week that a contract for concrete removal and site grading has been awarded.

Middleton-based Speedway Sand & Gravel submitted the winning bid at $429,800.

“We’re pretty excited to be at the point in the process where we’re beginning the restoration,” County Executive Joe Parisi said in an interview with the Tribune. “Restoring this prairie and wetland will result in up to five million fewer gallons of water rushing into the creek and Lake Mendota. So it’s very important, as far as flood prevention and mitigation.”

The county’s June 9 announcement came approximately one year after it purchased the 160 acres of land adjacent to Pheasant Branch‘s northern boundary, expanding the existing conservancy.

The $10 million purchase was the largest land acquisition for conservation purposes in county history.

“Our staff has been working hard since we acquired the property,” said Land & Water Resources Director Laura Hicklin. “We’ve actually fast-tracked this project because it is such an important natural-resource area, and because there’s such high public use of Pheasant Branch Conservancy.”

Restoration began earlier this year, with the demolition of more than a dozen on-site structures. Middleton Fire District assisted in the effort, using the buildings for two separate burn trainings.

The trainings would serve as a both time- and cost-saving measure for the county.

“Now we’ll have a contractor go in and finish the work,” Hicklin said, “taking the concrete out and then doing all of the grading and earthwork necessary for wetland restoration. That’s really the heart of the project – making sure that we’re improving the hydrologic function of the site.”

Key aspects to the restoration have been identified as conversion of the site’s cropland to native prairie, and implementation of a major wetland-restoration and stormwater-management project.

Speedway Sand & Gravel could have wetland restoration completed as early as the fall.

“The contractor will be constructing infiltration basins where the water will gather,” Hicklin said. “Sediment will collect there, rather than washing into the stream. A lot of it is just shaping things correctly, so that areas which used to be wetlands can continue to serve that function.”

Restoring prairie vegetation will be a much longer process, Hicklin said.

The county’s 160-acre addition has been divided into quadrants which will be restored in stages, starting with the southeast quadrant in 2021 and ending with the northeast quadrant in 2024.

“We’re trying to make this a really high-quality prairie,” Hicklin said. “The benefits to wildlife and insects increase dramatically if you can have a more diverse prairie. We also see better carbon sequestration with more diverse prairies. So we’d like to have a lot of different species.”

Additional hiking trails through that prairie have been included in plans for the property as well.

The county executive said the restoration project will result in 550 fewer pounds of phosphorus entering the watershed, noting that a single pound of the pollutant produces 500 pounds of algae.

“This is a very important opportunity,” Parisi said. “And I guarantee that, 10 years from now, no one is going to look at that piece of land and wish that it would’ve been developed. I think current and future generations will thank us for making this investment.”

Further information can be found on the county’s project page,

https://www.danecountyparks.com/project/detail/Pheasant-Branch-Restoration-Project.

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