County plants the seeds ­— literally — of a new nature preserve

Department takes advantage of cover crop program to stabilize soil on Cedar Gorge property in Port

OZAUKEE COUNTY has planted cover crops on acres of farmland between Highway C and Lake Michigan at the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve to stabilize the soil in preparation for planting native grasses. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County-owned equipment that’s been used to help local farmers learn the benefits of using cover crops to improve soil and water health was used for the first time in a county park at the new Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve overlooking Lake Michigan south of Port Washington, signaling an expansion of the program that began in 2019.

The county Planning and Parks Department rented a tractor and seed drill from the county’s Land and Water Management Department to plant winter rye last fall on farm fields bordering Highway C in preparation for planting of native grasses.

The rental of the equipment is being paid for with a $3,000 grant from the Land and Water Department, representing a collaboration between the two departments.

“It will help maintain the property until a native prairie can be developed,” Planning and Parks Director Andrew Struck told county supervisors on the Natural Resources Committee last week.

“This is a nice collaboration” between the two departments, committee Chairman Rob Holyoke said.

The county rents out the equipment to area farmers through the Demonstration Farm Network and Clean Farm Families Soil Health Program to promote the use of cover crops and other methods to reduce the amount of soil, manure and chemicals that run into area streams and Lake Michigan.

Its use at Cedar Gorge is the first time the equipment has been used in a non-farm setting, Land and Water Management Director Katie Vogeler said.

“We approached Andrew Stuck about using the equipment there. We were aware that it had been conventionally farmed, and we thought it was a good opportunity to collaborate to get that ground covered,” Vogeler said in an interview.

Using cover crops improves soil health, increases the amount of rainwater that penetrates the soil, cuts fuel costs and reduces the need for fertilizers and herbicides, officials say.

“The whole goal is to keep the bare ground covered. This year we’re not focusing on farm fields. We’re opening it up. If you’re a land owner with some woods or grassy area you can reach out to us to help restore and improve the soil quality,” she said.

“Bare soil is subject to erosion,” Vogeler said. “By planting a cover crop you have a living crop to keep the soil in place as well as the nutrients.”

The program was one of the first in the state when it was created in 2019.

The equipment includes a tractor, an interseeder drill that injects seed into the ground, a crimper that bends stalks over and an air seeder that drops seed on the ground surface.

The drill has been used on about 500 acres a year and the air seeder was used on about 750 acres since it was purchased in August, Vogeler said.

Vogeler said the equipment is available to rent to anyone with bare ground that they wish to cover, even outside Ozaukee County.

“We’ve already rented to farmers in Sheboygan and Washington county,” she said.

The installation of a cover crop at Cedar Gorge is one more step toward development of the 134-acre park, which was acquired by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust in August and then transferred to the county.

The park is not yet open to the public.

The Natural Resources Committee last week also approved receiving a $5,000 grant from American Transmission Company to plant more than 160 trees at Cedar Gorge, including 10 larger trees, Struck said.

The ATC grant also will help leverage other grant funds for more tree planting, Struck said.

The park includes a 42-acre “community forest” area. When fully developed the park will include trails and scenic overlooks, among other amenities.

A workshop on cover cropping will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9, at Port Washington Inn & Suites Conference Center, 350 E. Seven Hills Rd., Port Washington.

The featured speaker will be Dave Brandt who has used no-till practices and cover crops since the 1970s.

For more information or to register, contact Vogeler at (262) 483-9740 or kvogeler@co.ozaukee.wi.us.

 

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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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