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Ozaukee County’s other coast PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 18:48

Ozaukee Press readers got an eyeful of Ozaukee County’s other coast last week.
    The county’s east coast, its Lake Michigan shoreline, gets most of the attention as an aquatic resource, and deserves it. The Great Lake that defines the county’s eastern border is a majestic gift of nature.
     But so too is that other “coast” —the land embracng the river that runs through almost the entire length of Ozaukee County and is, in fact, much longer than the Lake Michigan shoreline, owing to its many meanders.
    The beauty of that waterway and its banks was captured in last week’s evocative Press cover photo by staff photographer Sam Arendt of two boys fishing in the Milwaukee River in Waubedonia Park.
    More than a few readers, we suspect, found a vision of Mark Twain’s most famous characters in that image of boys on a river on a hot day in late summer. Others may have seen a parallel to art in the composition. Were it not for the sharply defined digital reproduction, the picture might have suggested an Impressionist plein air painting.
    Inside of that issue, written words described the appeal of Ozaukee’s stretch of the Milwaukee River in staff reporter John Morton’s story about the little known overnight campground along the river in Waubedonia Park.
    The comments of people interviewed for the story revealed a remarkable appreciation for the river as a recreational resource. One campground visitor enthused, “You can catch some real fish that you put right on your campfire for cooking, and we’re talking bass and northern pike.”
    He’s right. Smallmouth bass and northern pike thrive in the river. They are part of robust, naturally sustainable populations of native fish that are fun to catch and good to eat.
    The river, which enters Ozaukee County at two spots—directly west of Waubeka and near Newburg, where a loop of the east branch flows into the county—also offers many miles of water that is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, and areas in its southern Ozaukee reaches that are good for powerboating.
    The Milwaukee River whose praises we are singing here is a new generation of the river, cleaner, healthier and far more appealing than the previous one. Today’s Milwaukee River is a symbol of the environmental redemption that is possible when society puts its mind to it.
    The 20th century version of the river in Ozaukee County might not have been called a sewer, as the Milwaukee County part of the river frequently was, but it was a polluted waterway, contaminated by untreated and inadequately treated effluent from municipal sewage plants and industrial pollution sources along its banks, starting in its headwaters in Fond du Lac County.
    That has been fixed, and there is no mystery about how it was done. It was done, beginning with the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, by enacting strong environment regulations and cracking down on the polluters.
    The clean-up of the Milwaukee River and success stories like it across the country stand as pointed rebukes to the folly of the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental protection regulations and the Walker administration’s willingness to exempt a Taiwanese company’s massive manufacturing plant from wetland protection regulations as an incentive to locate in Wisconsin.
      Credit for the rebound of the river goes well beyond rules enforced by federal and state governments. Local government, notably that of Ozaukee County, has done significant work to improve the river quality, as have a number of conservation organizations. A standout among the latter is the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has restored hundreds of acres of wetlands in the river watershed and protected sizable stretches of riverbanks through conservation easements.
    The work is not done. In spite of its great strides, the river is still affected by agricultural waste, chemical fertilizer runoff and other nonpoint pollution, and remains short of the most ambitious water quality goals.
    But Ozaukee County’s other coast is no less a marvelous resource—and as proven in that photograph that channelled Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer—a beautiful one.

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