May 25, 2017
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STEVE LUND: The plan to repair the Pike River


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By Steve Lund


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slund@kenoshanews.com

Dave Giordano has a plan for people in Kenosha County to reclaim part of their identity — the Pike River.

As the executive director of the Root-Pike Watershed Improvement Network, one of his missions is to try to reverse the effects on the river from decades of abuse.

It’s not as though people intended to abuse the waterway; they just didn’t think about it. They were thinking about farming, so they drained wetlands. They were thinking about building homes, roads, factories and stores with big parking lots, so they paved a lot of land, and channeled the runoff into storm sewers.

One of the results is a river that carries too much water, too fast. It erodes the banks, undercuts trees and carries sediment downstream and eventually into Lake Michigan.

A few weeks ago, introducing the “10 Years Out” series, I mentioned that more could be done to develop Kenosha County’s water resources. High on my list of under-used and under-appreciated resources is the Pike River.

However, lots of people are trying to do something about it, and Giordano is perhaps chief among them.

He grew up in Kenosha, went away to college and worked as a marketing executive. He came back to Kenosha and worked in marketing for a construction company before taking the job with the Root-Pike WIN and working to implement the Pike River restoration plan. That plan was several years in development, and it has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

There is a huge upside in quality of life that goes along with watershed improvement, Giordano said.

“I’m not a tree-hugger,” he said. “Development in this area in the next 10 years is probably going to be incredible. I’m not opposed to that.”

But he said there needs to be a focus on the natural heritage of the area, “or you’re just another sprawling suburb that has no identity.”

Restoring the Pike River watershed, he said, would improve water quality, reduce flooding, restore habitats for wildlife, and create attractive places for people.

“This is ripe to be an environmental corridor,” said Giordano, pointing to a map of the South Branch of the Pike River.

That part of the river doesn’t show up on some maps, but it flows north from Highway 50 west of Highway 31 to a point near Highway A, where it connects with the North Branch that flows through Racine County. The main branch of the river then flows through Petrifying Springs County Park, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus and the Carthage College campus before it reaches Lake Michigan at the south end of Alford Park.

A model for the environmental corridor Giordano envisions already exists on the North Branch of the Pike River in the village of Mount Pleasant. A multi-use paved trail runs along the river in areas where the banks and floodplain have been re-engineered. The banks are relatively flat, allowing the river to overflow onto a wide, grassy floodplain when the water rises. The banks no longer collapse into the river during high-water events.

But the banks of the South Branch and the main branch

do

collapse.

Lori Artiomow is a restoration ecologist at Hawthorn Hollow, a nature sanctuary located along the South Branch. She constantly is reminded of the eroded riverbanks.

“We really need work done on the headwaters and tributaries to slow down and reduce the volume of water coming to us,” she said. “What the flooding does is erode away our banks much more. Trees along our banks fall in. Then we have log jams.”

Bank resoration work in Mount Pleasant is still going on just north of Highway KR, a short distance from Hawthorn Hollow. Artiomow said she’d like to see Kenosha County link a bike trail to Mount Pleasant’s trail when it is completed.

And there is a plan for that. Gary Sipsma, Kenosha County highway commissioner, said the the county received a grant for linking the bike trail in Petrifying Springs to Mount Pleasant’s Pike River Pathway. Some of the design work is already done, and the project could start in 2017, Sipsma said.

Bike trails fit just fine with the watershed improvement plan, said Giordano. As a marketing professional, he sees huge potential in creating places where people want to be.

He sees the Pike River restoration plan as a way for people here to get in touch with their natural heritage.

The name Kenosha comes from the Native American word for northern pike, a species of fish once abundant in the Pike River and now rarely seen there. Draining wetlands for agriculture deprived the pike of its spawning areas.

The river is also inhospitable for most game fish, Giordano said, because of flashing — rapid rises and falls of the water level after storms.

Restoring some wetlands would reduce flashing, he said, because the wetlands act as water storage areas, allowing runoff to flow into the river more slowly.

“We could have pike back in the Pike River,” he said. “It’s symbolic, but it’s also a measuring standard. They’re not going to live there unless the water quality is good.”

He’s already seen significant progress, including finding juvenile rainbow trout in Petryifying Springs County Park — not stocked fish but the products of natural reproduction.

“That was a watershed moment for me, no pun intended,” he said. “We’re not really doing a whole lot yet, and things are already starting to happen.

“Here is an opportunity to bring back part of the identity of Kenosha, and this is the plan to do it,” he said.

For more information about that plan, visit the Root-Pike WIN website, www.rootpikewin.org, or call 898-2055.

Steve Lund is the editorial page editor of the Kenosha News. His column appears on Thursdays.


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