North Pikes Creek and Big Ravine Headwaters Added to Bayfield Regional Conservancy's Accomplishments
Protecting the natural places of Northwestern Wisconsin has been entrusted to the Bayfield Regional Conservancy (BRC) and this week they celebrate two newly acquired and remarkable places that coincidentally are headwaters. “Within a week’s time we closed on the purchase of 40 acres at the top of Bayfield’s much loved Big Ravine” said Meghan Dennison, executive director at BRC, “and purchased 280 acres that will forever protect the wetlands feeding North Pikes Creek.” Both flow into Lake Superior and provide invaluable habitat for migratory birds and more.
“Anytime you can protect an entire watershed, it is protecting a community,” says Dennison.
“The North Pikes Creek Wetland (NPCW) purchase is a great example of how BRC is working together with the diverse community of stakeholders in the area toward the protection and care of an entire watershed,” says Tracy Hames, executive director of Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
The Bayfield Regional Conservancy has been working on these two projects for over a year and although they are not” entire” yet, their headwaters are crucial. “It is hard to find a watershed that runs clear from its source to its mouth,” says Dennison. Many factors contribute to water quality including development and forest management practices.
The community, adjacent landowners, local governments and special interest groups all collaborated to set in motion a complex series of events in order to make this happen. As a result the BRC was awarded both state and federal grants. “It would not have been possible if all four landowners were not willing to sell their lands,” says Kim Bro, former chair of BRC’s Land Projects committee and current board member.
The Big Ravine properties were purchased with funding from Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program (WKNSP) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Joint Venture Habitat Restoration and Protection Program’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The North Pikes Creek Wetland was purchased by WKNSP funds and the US Forest Service Community Forest Program.
One of the sellers, FutureWood, owned 240 acres of actively managed forestland along North Pikes Creek but was supportive of protecting the property long-term for habitat, water quality and public enjoyment. The area’s extensive wetlands absorb run-off from three directions and replenish seeps, springs and water tables for miles around. “We rely heavily on the integrity of the perched water table up here,” says Rick Dale, owner of Highland Valley Farm just outside of Bayfield.
In a sense, when a wetland dries up so does the fruit business. The apple trees above Bayfield “like their toes tickled by water,” says Dale. “We need to work more closely with nature.” Dale was thrilled that the BRC and community friends of North Pikes Creek had indeed acquired the land.
NPCW also protects a Class 1 trout stream. Its numerous beaver dams slow the flow and in-turn reduce flooding and bank erosion down-stream.
As for the Ravine, “I remember as kids we used to slide down the steep sides of the Big Ravine and play in the woods,” says Don Olson. He would like to see others “enjoy the big trees that haven’t been cut for years.” A passion for the ravine dates back in Olson’s family whose grandparents owned the property. Don and his sister Betty always thought the Big Ravine should be protected for future generations. “It was a special historic area,” says Don who spoke of the logs that were once skidded down the ravine to the Bayfield lumber mill.
Amongst birders the ravine is known for the ethereal and seductive ‘whirling down a metallic pipe’ song of the veery. Considered a Wisconsin Species of Greatest Conservation Need and a Partners in Flight Priority Bird, the veery thrives in the ravine’s large, unfragmented, mixed forest and undulating slopes of cedar, hemlock, pine and hardwoods. “The place seems wild, like the way nature intended,” says a nearby resident who is surprised given its close proximity to downtown Bayfield.
Both lands will be managed for their recreational and educational opportunities including trails while protecting their conservation values. The BRC will work with “Friends of North Pikes Creek Wetland” who helped secure the grants and raise additional funds for both properties. Thanks to a grant from the John C. Bock Foundation the BRC will convey the ravine property to the Town of Bayfield with a conservation easement, adding it to their over 160 acres already publicly protected.
The John C. Bock Foundation supports qualifying conservation organizations that are directly engaged in the preservation and protection of landscapes containing mature woodlands and old-growth forests.
“In protecting these two important watersheds and leaving them in their natural, intact condition, we are helping to minimize erosion and sedimentation, one of the most significant environmental problems in the Great Lakes ecosystem,” says Erika Lang, conservation director at BRC. “People committed to good stewardship,” the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, “is why we were able to get these properties,” adds Lang.