Building a Community Ecology Project

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By Paul Fliss, City Forester, City of New Berlin, WI

The City of New Berlin applied for a National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF) Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant in 2017. The proposed project will cover 9.59 acres and encompass the length of Deer Creek and the wetlands to the south and east of the City Center Business District. Common to this area are several species of resident birds, migratory songbirds, owls and waterfowl. Recent history has revealed an abundance of whitetail deer and smaller animals such as muskrats, raccoon, opossum, skunks, various mice/voles and even evidence of a beaver. The habitat for these species is that of an urban to rural interface and wetland transition ecology. The current state of the defined proposal areas vary between ‘poor’ with construction debris, litter and heavily infested invasive species to ‘fair’ with few invasive species and nearly undisturbed lowland habitat, native trees and wetlands plants.

The project will connect two areas of current focused conservation activities. First, the Deer Creek Sanctuary is a parcel of 47 acres of upland mature oak and maple climax growth forest that has been involved in community conservation efforts from Scout projects, the Paul Gering Trail and a native salamander study due to the vernal ponds. The other end of the project is the Preserve at Deer Creek and Eisenhower High (EHS) and Middle School. To date, about 100 fifth grade students from Elmwood Elementary School have toured the route of the trail and are engaged in creating the ecologic interpretive signs. Also, there are two Eagle Scout projects underway in the “Scout Park” 3.7 acre site for trail creation and bird habitat improvements.  At City Center, there are efforts underway to benefit the environment with the Friends of the Library engaging with the Waukesha Green Team and several local civic groups to promote water conservation with a “Project Rainway” rain barrel auction, ABC Garden and bird habitat enhancement to the south of the new Library. In addition, the International Lion’s Club will plant 20 trees around the proposed trailhead at the Library Green Park site. This area is designated in the Grant to have a conceptual design for a park type community gathering area with an ice skating rink and an area for concerts and outdoor movies.  This project would give a tangible point of consolidation for those conservation efforts and a community gathering point to begin and end the Wetland Ecology Trail (New Berlin W.E.T.). When complete, the project will remain sustainable with the committed involvement from the Boy and Girl Scouts annual activities in Scout Park, coordinated monitoring by the New Berlin Land Conservation and Ecology Association and annual activities by the EHS Ecology Club. The City of  New Berlin Parks, Buildings and Grounds Department is the ultimate authority over this project and will maintain oversight of this area as identified in the Parks and Open Space Plan 2016.

The idea for the differing aspects of the project were always something that seemed like a great thought however, it did not come together until DNR Urban Forestry personnel related a Grant RFP to the City Forester.  The project directly relates to New Berlin because it is a hub for Fed-Ex Ground and they are one of the major funders for the Grant and have a commitment to provide volunteers for this project.  It has been a great pleasure to pool New Berlin’s local resources from the differing organizations because not one has declined the request and many have provided volunteers for past projects.  Fed-Ex is an Adopt-a-Park sponsor, The Lion’s Club has planted trees in a stormwater mitigation site and the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association has provided wood duck houses to Eagle Scouts for park projects in the past.  Bringing all of these people together to work for an environmental awareness project is truly an indication of the pride we take with our community and the importance given to education, conservation and restoration by the volunteer partners.  In fact, the unusual aspect about this project is that after the Grant came through and publicized, more community organizations have offered to help but, we need to stay within the focus of the existing proposal.  Although we cannot utilize these groups immediately, we are keeping contact information and creating a pool of resources to be called upon for future trail tasks.

In conclusion, this project will restore and make accessible to our public, the Deer Creek corridor that flows through the most heavily urbanized area of the City of New Berlin. This proposal will establish a sustainable ecological trail with the use of a variety of community volunteer groups and lay the foundation for additional community engagement. We are building a community project for the development and improvement of future park space and a means for the promotion of our local wetland ecology.  For more information or to see the entire Grant Proposal, please contact the City of New Berlin Parks, Buildings and Grounds Department at (262) 797-2467.

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