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Dane County Land & Water Resources Department

Dane County Takes Next Steps on Historic 160 Acre Pheasant Branch Conservancy Restoration Project

June 09, 2020
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
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Dane County is moving forward on its historic 160-acre restoration project to expand the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, County Executive Joe Parisi announced today. A $429,800 contract has been awarded to Middleton-based Speedway Sand & Gravel, Inc. for concrete removal and grading at the site, located in the Town of Springfield. The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy have also donated $16,500 to support the funding of a limited term employee (LTE) dedicated to working with volunteer groups in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Restoration of the property will help the Town of Springfield maintain its rural character and reduce sediment and phosphorus runoff—improving water quality within the Pheasant Branch Watershed and positively impacting Lake Mendota. By saving this property from being developed and restoring it to prairie, Dane County will be able to prevent the runoff of nearly five million gallons of water from entering the Yahara Chain of Lakes each year, and reduce more than 550 pounds of phosphorus annually. Roughly one pound of phosphorus can produce up to 500 pounds of algae in area lakes.

“We are excited to take these next steps in our restoration project to expand the Pheasant Branch Conservancy,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “This property furthers our efforts to mitigate flooding, improve the overall quality of our water, and preserve our outdoor spaces as Dane County continues to grow. By partnering together, we are doing our part to ensure this outdoor recreation destination and its surrounding natural resources can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

In June of 2019, Dane County purchased 160 acres of land from the Acker family who operated a dairy farm at the site. Costing nearly $10 million, it was the largest conservation investment for a land acquisition in the county’s history. The parcel is within the Pheasant Branch and Yahara River Watersheds and contains the headwaters of an intermittent stream that flows into Pheasant Branch Creek. The site is also located within the recharge area of Frederick Springs, found south of the parcel, making it important for groundwater protection.

The key aspects of the restoration project include 1) demolishing all structures and using the concrete from building foundations for a future access/parking site, 2) converting all of the cropland to native prairie over a 4-year period, 3) implementing a major wetland restoration and stormwater management project, 4) establishing perimeter hiking trails that would also serve as firebreaks and connect to the existing trail system at the Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Dane County has already completed building demolition through a combination of Middleton Fire Department conducted trainings and Department of Land and Water Resources staff efforts. The county’s contract with Speedway Sand & Gravel, Inc. will allow the remaining concrete to be crushed and placed near Pheasant Branch Road for an access/parking site. The contract also covers millhouse waste abandonment and grading and construction of the wetland restoration.

This fall, Dane County hopes to start seeding the southeast quadrant of the property to prairie. Dane County Parks will coordinate with the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and other partners on volunteer activities and events to assist with prairie seeding, invasive species removal, and other land management activities. Fundraising for the prairie and wetland restoration is currently taking place, which is estimated to cost about $500,000.

Prairie and wetland habitat will be established with a platinum seed mix that consists of at least 75 species coupled with a seeding rate of 90 live seeds per square foot. The seed mix will cost approximately $2,000-$3,000 per acre. One of the benefits provided by the high initial costs is the likely reduction in future management expenses as diverse prairies are typically more resistant to invasive species encroachment. A diversity of species also provides a diverse network of root systems which increase water infiltration and retention, mitigate against flooding, and improve carbon storage capacity. Platinum seed mixes provide season-long blooming that benefits the widest range of pollinators and provides the most colorful displays for people to enjoy. Monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, and bumble bees will enjoy the parade of blooms lasting from April through October. Habitat quality is excellent for grassland birds, waterfowl, and mammals such as badgers and white-tailed deer.

Staff and volunteers will conduct water monitoring throughout the project to measure the impact of the restoration on stormwater volume and water quality.

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