Friends of Cherokee Marsh comments on developing a long-term plan for a portion of the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary

Here are the comments submitted by the Friends of Cherokee Marsh in response to the public meetings on developing a long-term plan for a portion of the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary.

The Friends of Cherokee Marsh appreciate the interest taken by Dane County, UW Civil & Environmental Engineering, the DNR, City of Madison, and others in the health of the upper Yahara River at Cherokee Marsh.

We will welcome projects that help stem continued loss of shoreline wetlands at Cherokee Marsh and provide other benefits.

Steering committee

We are disappointed that the Friends of Cherokee Marsh were not asked to participate in meetings of the Cherokee Steering Committee as the grant specifies. We request to be included as participants in all future communications and meetings of this committee.

We strongly recommend that any proposal put forth by the steering committee includes analysis from wetland ecologists that have experience with the upper Yahara or similar peat wetland ecosystems. We can’t support proposals that don’t include input from these sources.

Alternative concepts

The grant states that the team will explore several concepts for restoring Cherokee before proceeding to analysis in Phase 2. Yet the peninsulas concept is the only one apparently under consideration. We believe that considering a range of options will help ensure that the selected plan will be effective, affordable, and supported by the public.

We have substantial reservations about the idea of dedicating the upper Yahara and Cherokee Lake as a catch basin for nutrient-rich sediment. We support the work by the county and others to address conditions that are producing sediment in the river.

The grant states that the FBI structures were successful in stopping shoreline erosion. Yet this project has been abandoned, leaving the structures to work loose and float away. We are concerned that future projects may suffer the same lack of maintenance over time.

From our observations as well as the data presented at the public meetings, the beds of American lotus and other submergent and emergent plants established in the last 15 years have been effective at calming the water, protecting the shorelines, capturing sediment, and providing wildlife habitat. Before planning a major construction project with similar goals, we recommend continued and expanded documenting of shoreline erosion or buildup, vegetation, sediment capture, and other indicators of ecological health in different seasons and rainfall patterns. This information will help to better understand what areas are in need of attention and what strategies might be effective.

We support continued carp harvests as needed.

Peninsulas concept

These are our concerns about the peninsulas concept as presented.

We’ve seen no evidence that the peninsulas concept has been examined by wetland ecologists who can address concerns such as those we present below.

The shoreline wetlands in the Cherokee Marsh flowage (the area of the Yahara upstream from Lake Mendota and flooded by the Tenney Park dam) are fragile because they are floating, not rooted in the river bed, and only loosely attached to adjacent vegetation. Rapidly changing water levels due to storm events cause these wetlands to rise and fall as if on hinges. The force of repeated motions of this type results in the wetlands breaking off and floating downstream where they fall apart and are lost forever.

If peninsulas are constructed adjacent to floating wetlands, during major storm events, water will seek a route around the inland edges of the structures, eroding those wetlands and converting the peninsulas into islands.

If peninsulas constrict the river’s flow, during major storm events, water will back up behind the structures, putting upstream shoreline wetlands at greater risk of breaking off. We’ve seen this effect caused by the constriction at the HWY 113 bridges downstream.

Any further research into large construction projects should include discussion of the feasibility of hauling materials on the shallow river.

It’s hard to evaluate a major proposal such as the peninsulas concept without some idea, however tentative, of the cost to build and maintain the structures. Thus it’s impossible to estimate if the benefits would justify the expense and inevitable negative consequences, some of which are as yet unknown, or if the marsh and downstream lakes would see more benefit from other efforts, even if that means focusing on different approaches and other parts of the watershed.

Future activities

We request that the materials presented at the meetings be posted online.

We support performing a bathymetric survey and preparing project base maps displaying river bottom, shoreline conditions, vegetation, structures, roads and trails as proposed in Phase 2 of the grant.

We don’t support moving ahead with the peninsulas concept until it has been vetted by wetland ecologists.

We look forward to being included in future steering committee meetings and other activities and would appreciate confirmation of this by the steering committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Jan Axelson

Report on first public meeting about managing the upper Yahara River at Cherokee Marsh

Several Friends of Cherokee Marsh directors attended the first of two public meetings seeking comments about how to manage the upper Yahara River at Cherokee Marsh.

Dane County’s Land & Water Resources Department is inviting the public to share ideas on how to enhance water quality, the fishery, wildlife populations, and recreation on the river. County staff called the meetings in response to a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) planning grant awarded to the county. The area under consideration extends from just downstream of State Highway 113 to about three miles upstream, where the river narrows.

Representatives from the county, the City of Madison, and the DNR were on hand to share information and answer questions. Participants were encouraged to submit comments with ideas and recommendations. Do we want to encourage canoeing and kayaking? How important is the fishery? Do we value the river as habitat for birds and other wildlife?

John Reimer from Land & Water Resources and Professor Chin Wu from the University of Wisconsin’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Department presented a concept for an area of the river west of Cherokee Lake, which lies along Burning Wood Way in the Cherokee Park neighborhood.

To improve water quality and reduce shoreline wetland loss, the concept envisions a series of constructed rock peninsulas along the river’s west shoreline. The peninsulas would capture sediments and channel the river’s flow. Two additional peninsulas would re-establish the spits of land that were left when Cherokee Lake was dug in the early 1960s but have since eroded away.

Before refining the plan and seeking funding, county staff want to know if there is public support for the concept. Information from the meetings will eventually be available online. When available, we’ll post links at

A second, identical, meeting will take place Thurs, November 14.If you have an interest in the future of the upper Yahara River, please consider attending this meeting.

Thursday, November 14
6:30 – 6:45 p.m. (Welcome and Project Background)
6:45 – 8:30 p.m. (Breakout Stations)
Westport Town Hall
5387 Mary Lake Road
Waunakee, WI

Learn about & comment on a long-term plan for the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary

See below for a media release inviting folks to learn about and comment on a “long-term plan for a portion of the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary.” We don’t know anything about this project beyond what the release says. We encourage everyone with an interest in the health of Cherokee Marsh and the upper Yahara River to attend. Note there are two meeting dates and locations.

Jan Axelson
Friends of Cherokee Marsh

Dane County, City of Madison, Town of Westport, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and UW-Madison Invite Public Comment for the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary at Two Public Informational Meetings: November 5 and 14, 2019

The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department was awarded a planning grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Department to create long-term plan for a portion of the Cherokee-Yahara River Estuary. The objectives of the plan are to enhance (i) recreation, (ii) fishery and wildlife, (iii) water quality and vegetation, and (iv) erosion and sediment trapping in the estuary.

For each of the meetings below, an introduction and general background of the project will be provided. Then the public will provide input at four breakout stations. Representatives from Dane County, City of Madison, Town of Westport, DNR, and UW-Madison will be at each station to provide information and seek public input.

Tuesday, November 5
6:30 – 6:45 p.m. (Welcome and Project Background)
6:45 – 8:30 p.m. (Breakout Stations)
Warner Community Recreation Center
1625 Northport Drive
Madison, WI

Thursday, November 14
6:30 – 6:45 p.m. (Welcome and Project Background)
6:45 – 8:30 p.m. (Breakout Stations)
Westport Town Hall
5387 Mary Lake Road
Waunakee, WI

Northsiders guide the Friends of Cherokee Marsh into its second decade

Jan Axelson (left) and Dorothy Wheeler meet in the marsh to discuss an issue.

Jan Axelson (left) and Dorothy Wheeler meet in the marsh to discuss an issue. Photo by Anita Weier.

Anita Weier

(A version of this article appeared in the Northside News.)

Jan Axelson credits her dedication to protecting and restoring Cherokee Marsh to her enjoyment of Wisconsin’s natural wonders after moving to Madison from New Jersey for college. “I had no mentors growing up regarding environmental activism,” she said. “I credit Wisconsin with giving me an environmental consciousness.”

Dorothy Wheeler did have a mentor – her father Richard A. Hemp, who served on the state Natural Resources Board and loved the outdoor world. She recalls the polluted Wisconsin River that flowed through the paper mill town where she lived and how it got cleaned up after laws were passed that made dumping waste into the river illegal.

Both women have served on the Board of the Friends of Cherokee Marsh for 10 years – ever since the organization was started to protect the marsh from development. (Two others, Janet Battista and Muriel Simms, have served for nine years.) All four are Northsiders. Read more

Volunteers celebrate achieving 6-year goal

Jan Axelson

On Sept 29, we celebrated the completion of six years of volunteer efforts to remove invasive phragmites (giant reed grass) from an area of high quality vegetation in the Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area (SNA). We will need to return periodically to remove resprouts, but the first and most time-consuming pass through the area is now complete.

We began the project in 2012 at the suggestion of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)’s newly hired volunteer coordinator, Jared Urban. Stands of phragmites were becoming so dense that the diverse, original native wetland plants were being crowded out. Read more

Adventures of a first year bluebird monitor


Jim Mand (left) and Paul Noeldner check a bluebird box and trail cam.

Jim Mand

Having just finished my first season as the Cherokee Marsh North Unit bluebird monitor, I’d like to reflect on what I have learned.

Having first joined Friends of Cherokee Marsh in 2009, I was not actively involved. But after retiring last year on Labor Day, I was looking for opportunities to contribute.

Volunteer Paul Noeldner mentioned that the group needed a bluebird monitor, and since I only live up the road from the marsh at Cherokee Condos and have had a life-long interest in birds and wildlife, it seemed like an ideal opportunity. And it gives me a chance to get out in nature and hike the trails for two hours while checking the nest boxes. Read more

Conservation crew has successful burn season

Madison Parks crew member Richard Westbury stands watch during a prescribed burn at Cherokee Marsh. Photo by Paul Quinlan.

Did you notice the flames and smoke this spring in the conservation park? Madison Parks uses fire as a tool to maintain prairies, open woods, and even marshes.

Without periodic burns, aggressive plants such as honeysuckle and buckthorn crowd out the native grasses, wildflowers, and other plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife and add much beauty to our natural areas. Read more