Corps of Recovery Part 2

A Sugar River Expedition Continued

Contributor: Carol Aslesen

The "Corps of Recovery" is on a mission to canoe the length of the Sugar River and collect data on flora and fauna found there. The journey began with a 20 mile paddle from Verona to Belleville, Wisconsin on May 16. Leg 2 of the journey took place on Saturday, June 27, paddling from Belleville to Attica.  If you would like to join us for Leg 3, to be scheduled in 2016, please contact, attention Carol Aslesen or Susan Lehnhardt. Following is a brief account of our experience.  


“Corps of Recovery”, Part 2: the Sugar River from Belleville to Attica

On leg two of our trip, we covered fifteen miles in 7 hours, putting in below the dam in Belleville and paddling to the County Road C landing at the bridge in Attica. 

The Route

Our team in June consisted of six volunteers, one who had not been on the first leg. As with the first trip, several members of the team are trained in ecology, botany, and cartography.  We had a leisurely start, putting in at 8:30 am, after shuttling vehicles to the end point. The day was sunny and mild—a perfect paddling day. June had been a rainy month, and we had some concerns about the water level and speed of the current.  Although, after checking the US Geological Survey Stream Flow Reports, we could see that the water level was a bit higher than average, but not excessive.  The current was a bit faster than normal, which gave us a relatively speedy trip down the river. We had estimated an arrival time in Attica around 5 pm; instead we showed up there at 3:30 pm.  We had time to enjoy a refreshing drink on the patio of a new bar in Attica that had just opened that weekend, followed by a delicious meal at Franklin Grove Etc. at intersection of County roads X and C—worth the trip downriver!

Data Collection

We stopped to collect data at five locations. On one mud bar, we found a number of clam shells---this was significant, as we had not found any clams, other than a tiny fingernail clam, at the sample points above the Belleville dam. Cedar waxwings were quite numerous on this stretch of the river. We talked to one paddler who had seen even larger flocks of the waxwings at various times along the river. Turtles were laying eggs, and we saw about six big snappers slide down a mud bank into the river as we approached.   

The river was open from Belleville to Dayton. We had been warned, though, that  we might encounter blockages on the stretch from Dayton to Attica, and we did—twice we had to get out and portage our canoes over downed trees, and several other spots required careful maneuvering. My paddling partner, Dave, likes the challenge of negotiating such things. I am not found of blockages, but have encountered worse.  However, because it was such a beautiful day I did not mind getting wet.

Bonus: Meeting Interesting People

The love of nature and being out on a river brings like-minded people together.  Besides collecting natural data and observations, another pleasant discovery is the opportunity to meet people that you might not otherwise encounter. While taking a break at Exeter Park in Dayton, we struck up a conversation with a kayaker who was also taking a break. He is an aspiring nature photographer who had a visual condition that has left him with very limited, and uncorrectable, eyesight. Undaunted, he uses powerful lenses to capture wildlife, which he posts on Facebook at Impaired Vision Photography.  Mike's can-do attitude and positive outlook on life---doing what is possible instead of saying "it can't be done," was an inspiration to us.

Reflections- Corps of Recovery members share their thoughts:

Steven Apfelbaum:  I was struck by the beauty of the Belleview to Attica reach. The beautiful sand and gravel substrates, the gentle banks meeting the stream with stable banks and the connected floodplain, rather than steeply cut banks and incised channel.  It was good to see native vegetation here and there, and then large areas of prevailing native “hairy lake sedge” in the lower 1-2 miles before we reached Attica.

Through the Corps of Recovery “eyes”, I also saw the prevalence of reed canary grass and some other invasive plant species present, and the all too common growths of native woody plants (box elder, etc) that were not historically present in the floodplains. Now this species lines the banks of the channel in many locations where historically an open sedge meadow and wetland prairie used to occupy most of this reach. There used to be swamp white oaks present and we did see some old ones struggling to continue, surrounded by the closed dense forest canopy of box elder. So, the restoration needs became more apparent than ever. I was also struck by the nutrient loading from ditches where algal growths suggested nutrient loading.

Meredith Tripp: I learned much just by being in company of Susan and Steve who as ecologists know so much about the Sugar River valley. Their knowledge keeps me humble. I don't know why I thought of this but when Steve would stand knee deep in the water and listen to identify birds by their calls he reminded me of our dog Yogi, an affable Golden Retriever who loved to stand in our pond chest deep and try to catch fish. Go figure? I think it is that they both enjoyed what they were doing. Too, you learn things about each other when you work and play together that you would never know otherwise. Susan was my canoe partner and we managed to negotiate several strainers, stay upright and still be friends at the end of the paddle. She is so gracious even under trying conditions. Too, I learned that Steve grew up in a neighboring Chicago suburb to where my family lived for many years and attended the same high school as our two kids.  To me getting to know our Sugar River and the people who love her is what Corps of Recovery is all about.

Fugui Wang: The canoeing trip is just like exploration for me because I have not done any paddling on rivers (prior to this.) It is fun and a very good opportunity to learn from all the other paddlers in the group. It is very interesting to see, from up to downstream, variations of river geomorphology, hydrology conditions, vegetation composition and structure, species and population of birds, turtles, fish, and etc. Observation of the vegetation in the field also consolidates my capability in aerial photo interpretation and analysis.     

Other members of the Corps of Recovery, Part 2, were Susan Lehnhardt, Davie Aslesen, and Carol Aslesen.

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