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Back to nature: Efforts to restore Neumiller Woods to its former glory in Somers underway
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Back to nature: Efforts to restore Neumiller Woods to its former glory in Somers underway

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SOMERS — Neumiller Woods Park could serve as ground zero for a more ambitious restoration project, if the efforts of a group of local organizers come to fruition.

As is the case with many areas along the Pike River watershed, portions of the Neumiller site in Somers, 8128 12th St., have been altered over time at the hands of humans and population growth.

But grassroots groups, such as the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, are hoping to not only put an end to the degradation of the wetlands like the Pike River, but also to bring some of the altered areas back to their former glory.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, about 90 percent of the wetlands within the Pike River watershed have been destroyed or altered over time. The watershed is considered one of the most impaired tributaries along Lake Michigan.

Dave Giordano, executive director of the nonprofit Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, said the restoration work kicking off this winter at the 7.9-acre Neumiller site came after five years of behind-the-scenes planning — a process that included grant writing to bring the project to fruition.

In a statement outlining the project, Giordano described the work at Neumiller as “part of a multi-phased program” that zeroes in on the wetland along the Somers branch of the Pike River.

“This project puts more native conditions, habitat diversity and natural water quality measures back in to the Somers branch system,” Giordano wrote in the statement.

Partnerships have been a key component of the project, Giordano said.

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Local leaders within the village of Somers, which owns the Neumiller site, have been strong advocates of the work, Giordano said, as have partner groups, such as the Fund for Lake Michigan and state DNR. Wetland ecologist consultants with South Milwaukee-based Thompson and Associates also have provided expertise.

In an interview with the Kenosha News, Casey Eggleston, fund officer with Fund for Lake Michigan, said the Neumiller restoration work fits hand-in-glove into the projects his organization tackles.

Restoring watersheds in developed areas is imperative from an ecological perspective, Eggleston said.

“Projects like this restore natural wetlands where they should exist,” Eggleston said. “I’m glad to see this happening, and I think there’s a lot of great potential for more of these kinds of partnerships.”

The work underway at Neumiller is designed to mesh with some of the untouched portions of the surrounding area.

“It is important to note that Neumiller Woods Park still has some areas that are in near pre-settlement condition — one of the few remnants in our area of past agricultural dominance and now accelerated development,” Giordano wrote.

The first phase of the Neumiller restoration work will focus on a half-acre wetland depression, Giordano said, and will require a number of specific tasks. Among them: removing such invasive species as reed canary grass and replanting native vegetation.

The first phase of the work is expected to be methodical and carefully reviewed, Giordano said, and will likely stretch across a three-year span of time.

Echoing the sentiments Eggleston shared, Giordano said he believes more possibilities for the surrounding area lie on the horizon.

Speaking to the work on the half-acre site, Giordano wrote, “I know, it’s small, but it’s the start of more restorations to come.”

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