Conservation group highlights efforts to improve the Cherokee Marsh

Over the span of two decades, groups have worked to drastically improve the water quality in the wetland.
Published: Aug. 29, 2021 at 9:27 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) makes additions to its impaired waterbodies list, one conservation group is sharing a clean-up success story hoping to inspire others.

Several groups, including Madison Parks and the DNR, have been working to improve water quality along the upper Yahara River for more than a decade.

Russ Hefty, a retired conservation resource supervisor for Madison Parks, said 20 years ago, the water at Cherokee Marsh was murky and filled with sediment. He said the condition did not allow for any underwater plants to grow.

“Between the wave action from the wind, not from boats, and the things the carp do, the water quality was constantly turbid,” Hefty said, describing the water as having a cloudy appearance.

Before retiring five years ago, he said he worked extensively to restore the habitat in the area. Hefty explained a partnership with the DNR to control the carp population and planting additional vegetation is what they believe dramatically turned things around over time.

“It’s really outstanding to go to a place and remember what it is like when you couldn’t see two inches into the water because the water quality was that poor, and now you can see clear to the bottom,” he said.

Specifically, he said planting the American Lotus throughout Dane County’s largest wetland helped stabilize the river bottom, and further protect the shoreline from erosion.

“As a person who was in charge of the stewardship of these wetlands, I just hated to see these wetlands continue to erode away and disappear,” he said.

Now, conservation group Friends of Cherokee Marsh helps monitor conditions. The organization’s president, Jan Axelson, said it continues to be a work in progress to preserve the area.

“It’s a little cliché, but we call it a gem,” Axelson said. “It’s close to the city, and yet it’s really a way to escape into the natural world.”

While the Cherokee Marsh has never been on the DNR’s impaired waters list, there are portions of the Yahara River that are. In early August, the DNR identified an additional 92 waters as ‘impaired’ statewide. Continuing a trend of improved surface water quality across the state, the DNR announced more than 80% of Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers recently assessed are healthy.

Every two years, the Clean Water Act requires states to publish a list of waters not meeting quality standards.

The public can comment on changes proposed for the 2022 list until Oct. 1.

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