Tony Abate has the task of restoring a lost landscape in the Town of Westport into the way it appeared in 1830, when some of the first surveyors were mapping out the land.
As a conservation specialist with the Natural Heritage Land Trust, Tony is tasked with overseeing the prairie restoration at the Westport Drumlin. He discussed the Westport Drumlin at the March 23 Waunakee Rotary meeting.
That 127-acre tract of land – referred to by Tony as a “budding natural area” – is located east of Hwy. 113 on the north side of Bong road.
Tony showed a map of the town from the 1830s that depicts the different landscape types from that time. Back then, Westport and Waunakee were a gateway to a historic landscape comprising 150,000 acres of what’s known as the Empire Prairie.
The Westport Drumlin is particularly special because it has remnants of the Empire Prairie, a tract containing tall grasses and wildflowers, Tony said.
“This is a unique opportunity to recreate that landscape,” Tony said. “The goal is to have a person stand there and view the landscape as though they were a surveyor in 1830.”
It’s also home to threatened and endangered species, such as the Prairie Bush Clover. In fact, it has the largest population in the state of that threatened species.
The Red-Tailed Prairie Leaf Hopper – a threatened species of insect – also makes its home there.
The remnant prairie and species exist there because of the slopes along the drumlin. With its thin layer of topsoil and angle, it has never been plowed for agricultural use. It may have been grazed by farm animals but never cropped, Tony said.
In 1984, the Department of Natural Resources realized the land’s value and purchased the first piece for restoration. In 2009, the Natural Heritage Land Trust began acquiring property to add to it to create a buffer, Tony said.
That purchase also prevented other types of uses nearby, such quarrying, and while part of the property is still farmed, the Natural Heritage Land Trust can control which types of herbicides are applied and when they’re used to prevent drifting.
Now, with the Natural Heritage Land Trust’s acquisition of property, it consists of 227 acres that Tony is trying to restore.
Trees and shrubs have grown up, encroaching on the prairie, so Tony has enlisted help from interns and volunteers to remove them. The Prairie Enthusiasts group, along with the DNR, conduct controlled burns, critical to a prairie’s health.
In the spring, the burns warm the soil and remove dead vegetation, allowing the seeds to sprout. Volunteers also collect seeds to plant in the fall.
In 2015, Jim Koltes sold the more than 100-year-old family farm on Bong Road to the Natural Heritage Land Trust, and Tony has been collecting community comment about the uses they’d like to see. While it lacks the facilities now, it could be used for hunting, trapping, cross county skiing and picnicking, he said.
So far, he’s held field trips and work parties at the site. In June, he’ll be amping up some of the field trips and work parties there again.
A public input session is being scheduled for the last week of April, and Tony said he will begin planning field trips for the summer.
Other News:
–President Travis Heiser presented Waunakee Village Administrator Todd Schmidt with donations for WaunaBOOM and Live in the Park.
–Rooms at the Radisson Hotel in La Crosse are booking quickly for the District 6250 Conference, Linda Olson said.
Guests: Paul Cardarella guest of Allison Feldbruegge; Ophelia Whitley, guest of Sara Whitley; Steve Tortorici, guest of Harriet Statz; Heidi Halseger, guest of the club.
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Greeters: March 30, Dan Statz and Harriet Statz; April 6, Ray Statz and Don Tierney; April 13, Jon Townley and Susan Vergeront.