Birds and bugs are a priority for Port

Nonprofit organization, Park and Rec Department work together to restore native pollinator plants in effort to support urban avian population

BIRCHWOOD HILLS NATURE AREA on Port Washington’s north side is being converted into a native prairie, a project spearheaded by the city’s Environmental Planning Committee. Walking through the nature preserve when the initiative began in 2017 were committee member Dennis Pohlman (left) and chairman Derek Strohl. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

While the chirping of birds may seem  ubiquitous in Port Washington, things could change quickly as evolving habitat and a declining food base take hold, the Port Common Council was told last month.

To help ensure that doesn’t happen, Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, science director for the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, presented a series of initiatives to aldermen.

“A lot of our birds and insects are declining. This area is really important for migrating birds,” Phillips-Vanderberg said, noting a quarter of the birds in North America have been lost since 1970. “Having more native plants is really important for birds and insects.”

Having an attractive yard and creating habitat with those native plants aren’t mutually exclusive goals, Phillips-Vanderberg said.

“We can create beautiful spaces,” she said.

That’s a message being spread by the city’s Parks Department, which has undertaken several projects that dovetail with the initiatives spearheaded by the observatory, Parks, Forestry and Landscape Director Jon Crain said.

For example, the city is beginning to plant perennials and native pollinators in a number of its flowerbeds rather than planting annuals, Crain said.

These gardens can serve as demonstration gardens, he said, noting they will not only show people which plants are native pollinators but also show that perennials can be as showy as annual plants.

“What better idea than to plant them in the parks where people can see them,” Crain said, noting the city has 160 acres of parkland. 

“That’s the connection we’re trying to make, to show people you don’t always need the bright annuals. The native pollinators can bring just as much color. There are pollinators that do well in sun and in shade. And if you do it right, you can have blooms all through the summer.”

In Upper Lake Park and Whitefish Park, he added, the city is working to “naturalize from turf to prairie” in some areas. 

“We’re going to be very careful that we’re not going to let areas look unkempt,” Crain added, noting there will be paths through these natural areas. “It’s a long-term project that will slowly help maintain itself.” 

The city will also be installing some native pollinators at the Heart of the Harbor on the far east end of East Main Street, where Port Main Street Inc. is creating a plaza complete with a fire sculpture.

As time goes on, Crain said, the department plans to add a section to its website with native pollinators that will thrive in the area.

The city is also concentrating on removing invasive species from its parks and replacing many annual plants with perennials, particularly native species, Crain said.

Honeysuckle and buckthorn have been a particular problem, he said.

“It’s not surprising. It’s in areas we haven’t had time to address,” Crain said, adding, “When you have an area that’s been overtaken with invasive species, you almost have to start over. You’re better off in terms of time management and labor. Preparation is key.”

Invasive species got a stronghold at Coal Dock Park when fill was brought to the boardwalk area, Crain said. His department has spent two years killing these plants off and is now replanting the park with native species.

In recent years, more than 50 species of native pollinator plants were planted there — a mixture of container plants and seeds — he said. 

“It’s a lot of trial and error,” he said. “So far things have turned out well.”

Birchwood Hills Nature Area on the city’s north side is being converted to a native prairie, a project that is being done largely with volunteer labor, Crain said.

Due in part to its size, “Birchwood Hills will always be a work in progress. It will always need attention,” he said, although the amount of management will decrease in time.

Just as in Coal Dock Park, invasive species are being removed and pollinators and native species are being planted at Birchwood Hills.

Similarly, the city is using a grant from American Transmission Co. to get rid of invasive species under the power lines at Windrush Park on the city’s south side, Crain said.

While it takes a long time to kill off the invasive species and establish native prairies and planting areas, Crain said, the city’s efforts have begun to pay off.

“It’s very rewarding when you see all the insects thriving and the monarchs flying in the beds,” he said. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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