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Hidden gem about to be revealed PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 September 2017 18:46

Purchased 19 years ago and forgotten about, Port’s Birchwood Hills Nature Area is now the focus of efforts to restore, highlight a ‘wonderful place’

   Birchwood Hills Nature Area on Port Washington’s northeast side is a hidden gem.
    But it won’t remain hidden for long.
    The city’s Environmental Planning Committee is undertaking an effort to improve the area and increase access and awareness of it beginning this fall.
    “It’s a really awesome piece of property,” said committee member Derek Strohl, who noted there are wetlands and woodlands, uplands, ponds and streams.
    “It’s got it all.”
    But the 26.3-acre property, which as its name implies is home to numerous birch trees, has long been tucked away, generally unknown to all but its neighbors.
    It’s been earmarked for improvements such as trails and outdoor classrooms for at least the last decade, Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Imig said, but budget realities interfered with that goal.
    “It’s kind of an urban oasis,” Imig said. “You don’t really have that kind of setting, untouched land, elsewhere in the city.
    “This land is a blank canvas. A park is a park, but this is a natural area. You can go out there and just be with nature. That’s pretty special.”
  GUY LG  The city has owned Birchwood Hills for 19 years, buying it with a state stewardship grant in 1998, but nothing significant has been done with the land.
    Then, former Ald. Bill Driscoll asked city departments to look at selling unused parcels of land, and Birchwood Hills came to the attention of the Environmental Planning Committee.
    “We just discovered this wonderful place that’s tucked away in a corner of the city,” Strohl said.
    The property is almost completely surrounded by residential areas, bordered on the north by Terrace Drive, west by East Norport Drive and  east by Parkview Lane, although some portions of the land are adjacent to fields and a wooded lot owned by the Town of Port.
    It’s an ideal site for the committee to rehab, he said, noting that part of the group’s mission is to make an effort to manage and improve habitat for birds and monarch butterflies.
    “Birchwood Hills is the perfect opportunity,” he said.
    Basically, Strohl said, the committee plans to restore the wetland that was once there by breaking up the drain tiles placed there decades ago when the land was used for farming.
    They will also remove invasive species that are taking hold and replace them with native plants, creating a prairie in the process and enhancing the woodland.
    “There’s not much diversity” Strohl said.
    The group also plans to develop walking trails through the property and create a better access for the public.
    “There’s really no good foot access,” Strohl said, adding that the city recently mowed a path through the property. “That’s something we really need to improve.”
    The path that was mowed recently isn’t necessarily the permanent location for trails through the property, Strohl said, noting the layout for that work hasn’t been determined.
    Neighbors installed a small bridge over the creek at one time, but it has long since washed away, he noted.
    To aid in its efforts, the committee enlisted the help of students in an environmental studies class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who developed a management plan for the property.
    Strohl said the committee could begin its work this fall, breaking up the drain tiles and doing some invasive species control.
    “A lot of this work can be done by volunteers and through grants,” he noted. “We’re just going to take it year by year.”
    For the most part, Strohl said, the improvements are moderately priced, but there are a few larger expenses.
    “If we want to turn the field into a diverse prairie, we’ll have to spend a few thousand dollars on seeds,” he said, noting this will not only return the land to its original purpose but also provide habitat for pollinators.
    The improvements will provide not only a beautiful natural area for residents and visitors to enjoy, but also a place for schoolchildren to learn about nature, Imig said, noting an outdoor classroom could be part of the plans.
    “It’s a good opportunity to get students there,” he said. “The teachers are excited about this opportunity.”
    Strohl added, “We want kids to know nature is not just a beautiful place, it’s what we do with the land. We want them to be part of the process.”
    The committee’s efforts will take center stage on Thursday, Oct. 12, when the committee will hold a public informational meeting on the project.
    The meeting will be at the Parks and Recreation office on Webster Street and is tentatively set for 5 p.m.
    “We want to make sure the public is on board with this,” Strohl said, adding the committee is seeking input not just from residents at large but also those living nearby. “We don’t want people to wake up one morning and say, ‘What’s going on here?’”

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 September 2017 18:50