BioBlitz helps fine tune massive restoration project at Havenwoods State Forest in Milwaukee
More than 60 scientists and conservationists from across the state will be congregating on Milwaukee's northwest side on June 9. Teams will have 24 hours to find as many animal and plant species as they can. The program is called a BioBlitz. It’s the eight annual event sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Museum.
The Museum has staged the “race against the clock” scientific survey at various nature centers and parks. This year’s choice of Havenwoods State Forest could be both the most unusual and important so far.
As we walk Havenwoods’ currently parched trails, Milwaukee State Parks Superintendent Angela Vickio says, “Havenwoods itself, if you look just at the northwest quadrant of Milwaukee, is the largest non-developed plot of land, the overall acreage of 237.”
That may be true of the roughly triangular-shaped parcel with Sherman Boulevard to its east and its southern tip touching West Silver Spring Drive today, but from the 1800s through the early 1960s, this land transitioned from farming to a Milwaukee County House of Correction.
“Then, as it got closer to World War II, the federal government seized the property for a German POW camp. They constructed a total of 32 buildings, the foundations of which are still in the ground. They’re just imploded and grown over,” Vickio says.
Next, the parcel morphed into a Nike anti-aircraft missile site. Community members rallied for the parcel’s naturalization, and that was formalized in 1978 with Havenwoods State Forest master plan. “And in 1982 we got a building,” Vickio says.
But scars of the parcel’s past remain.
“Both going back to the house of corrections where they had their own landfill, as well as landfill areas used by the Army prior to the state taking over and the old Nike missile site, are considered capped landfills,” Vickio says.
The Milwaukee Public Museum says it chose Havenwoods for this year’s BioBlitz “because of its fascinating past and present.”
Angela Vickio, whose work here started in 2021, is focused on the forest’s future. She points to a stretch of newly planted, very small trees.
“That is part of our reforestation project. So earlier this spring the northwest corner of the property had about 762 trees per acre planted,” Vickio says.
A 3-acre project called the Naturalist’s Backyard is taking shape near the forest’s nature center.
“We will have native species at high biodiversity levels and allow for training students and children of all ages. We’ll have a sensory prairie. And we’re also going to have trees that go from common to less common to climate resilient. So in my office right now, there’s actually two pecan trees and two yellowwood trees that need to go in the ground today or tomorrow,” Vickio says.
Sounds like Havenwoods is on a healthy path. So why is the upcoming BioBlitz so important?
“When I was first approached by Milwaukee Public Museum last year, we knew that coming this year we’re going to move into the design phase where we actually plan management activities and species of plants that we’ll be using the large amount of invasives for more than 150 acres of this property,” Vickio says.
Information collected during the BioBlitz could help fine tune Havenwoods’ massive forest habitat enhancement plan. It’s still in the design phase, and has been in the works for several years.
How does Havenwoods fit into that picture?
“Everything on this property essentially drains to Lincoln Creek,” Vickio says.
Lincoln Creek flows into the Milwaukee River, which eventually mingles with the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic in downtown Milwaukee and finally reaches Lake Michigan.
“We are working to improve the water quality upstream to mitigate any contamination or further degradation downstream,” Vickio says.
This map shows all the clean up sites in the estuary, including Havenwoods - created by Reflo:
The bulk of the work in Havenwoods — clearing and planting — won’t begin at least until 2025.
In the meantime, Vickio wants more people to visit the evolving state forest, including this Saturday to savor some of the BioBlitz.
“At 3 pm they will get everyone together and announce all their findings, which from my end is really cool, I want to know exactly what they found. But that entire time from 10 to 3 being able to see what people are doing and there’s a lot of hikes to go on. We’ll have s’mores for part of the day,” Vickio says.
Vickio’s mission beyond the BioBlitz and enriching Havenwoods’ habitat is for people to feel this is their forest.
“The area we walked through earlier with the reforestation project, those trees are only about a foot tall right now, but in 5, 6, 7 years they’re going to be 10 feet tall. You’re never going to know that at one point there was just a bunch of little trenches dug into the ground and little seedlings plopped in. You’re going to come back and say, ‘Oh this is a really wonderful forest with all these different species of trees,” Vickio says.
That’s probably why Vickio does this work — she envisions this space generations into the future.