By Scott Hennelly – October 26, 2015
Wisconsin is home to over 15,000 lakes. And with more and more people living on lakefront property, preserving and restoring shorelines has become an increasingly important issue.
But how do you encourage people to restore their shorelines?
This was the question Shawano County Conservationist Scott Frank asked himself as he looked to improve the shoreline around the largest lake in his county, Shawano Lake. Over the years, more people have been building their permanent homes along the shoreline, which can have negative impacts on the health of the lake.
“The biggest thing has been trying to get away from maintaining and manicuring a lawn where you are fertilizing it and treating it with chemicals all the way down to the water,” said Frank. The use, sale, and display of turf fertilizers containing phosphorus has also been restricted with the 2009 Wisconsin Act 9, signaling a step in the right direction for water resource protection.
One organization already familiar with these issues was Shawano Area Waterways Management. In their stragtegic management plan in 2009, they made a target to have 10% of the lawns on Shawano Lake to be restored or have non-lawn vegetation by 2019.
Wanting to partner and also take action on this issue, Frank and his county staff applied for funding from their county Capital Improvement Program in 2013. Later that year, the Land Conservation Department (LCD) was granted $26,250 to get their restoration projects started.
That is when Frank started thinking again about ways to encourage the idea of restoration.
“The shoreline of Shawano Lake—being as developed and manicured as it is—is not the easiest to sell going back to a full blown natural state,” said Frank. “So we’ve adapted our program for not having to go with a complete restoration, allowing folks to incorporate native flower gardens and flower beds into the near shore habitat instead of a lawn.” This type of restoration is also used in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 2014 Healthy Lakes Implementation Plan, which includes native planting practices to slow runoff water, improve wildlife habitat, and promote natural beauty.
The first shoreline Frank worked on was at Whispering Pines Retreat, an inter-denominational retreat center owned by Concordia University-Wisconsin on the north side of the lake. In the spring of 2014, Frank met with Orren and Kay Fredrick, the managers of the property, who had contacted the LCD about invasive species control, but were also interested in the idea of shoreline restoration.
After a couple meetings, the Fredricks then contacted Lisa Reas, a private environmental consultant from Green Lake, WI who was familiar with designing native plantings on large waterbodies that fit the needs of both landowners and the environment. With Reas’s consultation, what initially started as a project to restore 100 feet of shoreline quickly tripled in size to a 375 foot area.
“We could provide those planning and design services in our office, but we just don’t have the staff time to put those plans together currently,” said Frank. “We’re fortunate to have a few folks in the area that are willing to travel up here and provide their expertise. It’s been a win-win.”
After the site at Whispering Pines was installed in July of 2014, Frank finished a second project at the nearby Long Lake in September of this year. Now, news of Frank’s efforts have been spreading to other interested landowners who are trying small scale restorations projects in their own backyards.
“They were there at Whispering Pines when it was being installed and they’ve seen pictures at their Lake Association meetings. They were interested in it, but they weren’t interested in going full blown and doing their whole shore,” said Frank.
With limited resources, Frank has been hesitant to over promote this initiative; restoring less than a dozen properties could dry up the remainder of the funds.
“There is a balancing act with it. But I think if I gradually get into it and show that we are making progress here, then I can at least start the process to go for the next stage of funding,” said Frank.
As for the question of how to encourage shoreline restoration, Frank thinks they have come to a happy-medium.
“It’s about getting the concept across to folks that collectively, if we all try to do these things, you can and will see improvements and that it’s a good thing overall for protecting our natural resources,” said Frank.