On June 12, 2008, the City of Manitowoc, WI experienced an extreme storm event – the same storm that caused the Lake Delton Dam to fail in the Wisconsin Dells. The Little Manitowoc River (LMR) rose approximately 4-1/2 feet in less than 24 hours, reaching record levels. The LMR flows into Lake Michigan.
Following this flood, the Little Manitowoc River coastal wetland, from Lake Michigan to Reed Avenue, drained to become an exposed mud flat. This was the catalyst that brought people together to take action to protect this unique ecosystem. Two years later, the mud flat filled in with cattails, reed canary grass, Phragmites, and Japanese knotweed. Unfortunately, these invasive species have a low floristic quality and inhibit native vegetation, thereby reducing biological diversity.
The Great Lakes coastal wetlands are transition zones which provide many critical habitats for fish, birds, and plant life. Coastal wetlands also help maintain Lake Michigan’s water quality and aid in preventing erosion, while offering recreational, education and tourism opportunities.
The Little Manitowoc River Partnership was founded in 2012 as an affiliate of Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership (LNRP). The partnership’s purpose is to facilitate coordination between government agencies, organizations and residents to conserve the Little Manitowoc River Coastal Wetlands. We believe successful conservation involves connecting people to nature, both physically and mentally. So, we focus not only on restoration of the wetlands but development of recreation and educational opportunities as well.
The Little Manitowoc River Conservancy would stretch from the shore of Lake Michigan to 1.5 miles inland, connecting three city parks (Little Manitowoc River Walkway, Lincoln Park, and Indian Creek Park). This area would run along 2.5 miles of the meandering Little Manitowoc River creating a total conservation area of 230+ acres (potentially larger with easements). The Little Manitowoc River Conservancy will be a high-quality destination for observing birds and wildlife, with enhanced fish habitats.
• Little Manitowoc Coastal Wetland Restoration Project – We aim to restore the meandering stream and shallow open water connection that was lost in June 2008 between the Little Manitowoc River and adjacent coastal wetlands along the shore of Lake Michigan. Our goal, based on the findings in the City’s 2011 Conceptual Design Report, is to restore 38.5 acres of the Little Manitowoc River coastal wetlands (Lake Michigan to Reed Avenue) to a more historic mix of approximately 50% open-water and 50% native emergent vegetation with a flat sedge shoreline. This will provide critical habitat such as spawning grounds for fish, migratory stopovers, staging and breeding grounds for birds, invertebrates and many plants species. Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership is the lead facilitator.
• Little Manitowoc River Conservancy Enhancement Plan – We have initiated a strategic planning process to develop a comprehensive watershed restoration plan for the full 230+ acre Little Manitowoc River Conservancy. So far, the habitat assessment shows 15 unique habitat types within the conservancy; they are described and mapped in GIS as they change from the lakeshore inland. The conservancy will have 2500 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline bordering the mouth of the River, with plans to enhance shorebird habitat. With input from stakeholders, LNRP will assist in developing the overall plan and then facilitate the recommended restoration and enhancements.
• Little Manitowoc River Shorebird Habitat – The City of Manitowoc is part of the Bird City Wisconsin program formed by Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI). A project priority involves enhancing the conservancy to provide quality shorebird habitat. Dr. Charles Sontag, Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences, UW-Manitowoc, has studied this ecosystem actively for over 40 years. He has observed, photographed and recorded data regarding bird activities – most of which has been entered in the eBird database. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan 2004 (USFWS) identifies 54 high priority shorebirds, 35 of which have been documented in the Manitowoc lakefront area. In all, an average of 215 different species of birds has been observed here annually. The new US Shorebird Conservation Plan (2013) identifies the need for data on shorebird distribution, abundance and factors affecting them, like the 2008 flood event. We are seeking partnerships with birding organizations, the Wisconsin DNR and USFWS to assist in the planning, restoration, enhancement and education within the conservancy targeting shorebirds.
We believe successful conservation involves connecting people to nature through recreational experiences. The trail system, once complete, will provide access from the zoo to the Mariner’s Trail, Ice Age Trail, Michigan Tour and Water Trail, Woodland Dunes Nature Center, and Manitou Park. Most of the proposal is outlined in the City’s Comprehensive Outdoor Park & Rec Plan (2011-2016).
Areas to be completed include:
• Indian Creek Trail (Reed Ave. to Indian Creek Park)
• Floating Boardwalk (Waldo Blvd. to Zoo)
• Prairie Walking Trail (Little Manitowoc Prairie to River Ct. linking to Boardwalk)
• Magnolia Trail (Johnston Dr. crossing to River to 8th St.)
• Rail to Trail (Woodland Dunes Nature Center to Manitou Park via Indian Creek Park)
• Observation Decks (Little Manitowoc Prairie overlooking lake and wetlands)
• Zoo Trail (combination boardwalk and trail looping outside the Zoo along river and in woods)
• Lincoln Park Trails (evaluate and upgrade existing trail system)
• Accessible Trails (where practical provide ADA accessible trails)
• Fishing and Water Access Points
• Benches and Picnic Areas
The conservancy will offer a variety of passive and active learning experiences both inside and outside. With 15 unique habitats featured in a concentrated area, the Little Manitowoc River Conservancy becomes an ideal place for students to get out and study the changing habitats and the wildlife within them. With the zoo being located in the conservancy, animals can be viewed up close and out in their natural environments as well.
The Lake Michigan Flyway makes this area special for birders; the flyway is utilized by more than 300 species of birds as they migrate. Lake Michigan’s shoreline and coastal wetlands provides a variety of plant life and habitat for resting and refueling. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Birding is the number one sport in America” and, “there are currently 51.3 million birders in the United States alone and the number continues to grow!” The Little Manitowoc Conservancy not only gives us the chance to educate visitors but also becomes a tourist destination benefitting the whole community!
COASTAL WETLAND RESTORATION PROJECT GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The 38.5-acre wetland and river complex is located adjacent to Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Little Manitowoc River in the City of Manitowoc, WI. As with any conservation project involving a wetland and water resource located in an urban environment, gaining both agency and public buy-in is paramount. The City Master Plan that has been developed with the help of several members of the public, WDNR, Army Corps, USFWS, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and private consulting firms. All have indicated that this restoration project has the potential to be a major improvement over its existing condition. However, more information is needed by stakeholders prior to permitting and final approval.
The City’s Master Plan for the Little Manitowoc Coastal Wetland Restoration (LMCWR) includes the following elements:
• Develop a complete a habitat assessment of the wetlands that quantifies the existing impairments of the wetland (namely sedimentation and invasive species).
• Establish benchmark water quality and macro-invertebrate analysis.
• Complete a public participation process with the various stakeholders to gain buy-in to a restoration plan and approach.
• Prepare a preliminary design that refines and details the current Master Plan for the area.
• Remove accumulated sediment (12-15” in depth) to expose the native muck and peat wetland soils.
• Modify the existing monotypic wetland surface to provide a variety of inundation depths and frequencies that include pockets of open water, emergent wetland areas, and sedge meadows.
• Control invasive species, which include Phragmites australis (common reed grass), Typha spp. (cattails), Phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass), and Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed). These are all NR 40 restricted species.
• Seed and plant native species within and surrounding the wetland.
• Remeander the stream to better reflect its original alignment prior to the stream being straightened in the mid 1930’s.
• Placement of riffle structures in the existing stream that will also facilitate fish migration upstream that are currently inhibited due to the extremely shallow depths in the river between Waldo Ave. (STH 42) and Reed Ave.