2020 busy for restoration in Wisconsin's Driftless Area

Nick Halle, Trout Unlimited's volunteer operations coordinator, lands a small brown trout from a restored section of a spring creek in the Driftless Area near Viroqua, Wisc.

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic 2020 was a busy year for Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort in Minnesota. TU and its partners collaborated on a number of habitat restoration projects in the state. Here's a rundown of the…

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic 2020 was a busy year for Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort in Minnesota. TU and its partners collaborated on a number of habitat restoration projects in the state. Here’s a rundown of the projects.

Bohemian Coulee – Wisconsin DNR executed a large project restoring 5,240 feet of trout habitat along Bohemian Valley Creek upstream of CTH G and CTH H. Both sections were damaged by the 2018 flood. 

Billings Creek – Wisconsin DNR completed 3,070 feet of habitat restoration. 

  • Rush Creek and Tainter Creek – Wisconsin DNR completed 1,080 feet of habitat restoration. 
  • Mormon Coulee, Spring Coulee, North Fork of the Bad Axe, and Coon Creek – Wisconsin DNR prepped these creeks with boulder hauling, Box Elder removal, and accessibility brushing for planned stream restoration work in 2021. 
  • Little La Crosse River – Tree removal along 1,880 feet of the streambank. 
  • Conway Creek – Tree removal along 1,275 feet on streambank. 
  • Mormon Coulee Creek – Brush removal along 8,025 feet of streambank. 
  • N.F. Bad Axe River and Kickapoo River – Brushing and tree removal of 6,395                                            feet of these streams.  
  • Plum Creek (Link to PPT overview) – The work on Plum Creek was the second phase of work that began in 2019. The work included tree removal, improved brook trout habitat, and integrated bank treatment along 6500 feet of the stream. Additionally, a parking lot was installed at County Highway U and 145th Avenue.  
  • Gilbert Creek – The 2020 work on Gilbert Creek continued work that was done in 2015. Three beaver dams were removed from the creek. The project work included 1,945 feet of integrated bank treatment, installation of root wads, creation of spawning riffles, enhancement of islands, and rock placement in two springs that enter Gilbert Creek.  
  • South Fork of the Kinnickinnic – This project was a collaboration with Wisconsin DNR and Kiap Chapter of TU. The project included the installation of nine ERO structures due to large sand bedload filling in the habitat.  
  • Swinn’s Valley Creek – This project was coordinated by Paul Krahn and covers the last segment of the creek before it enters the Trempealeau River. This farm had suffered severe soil loss from recent historic flooding. Bank boulders and root wad clusters were added to the stream and six streambanks were stabilized.  Streambanks were sloped and trees removed to allow flood water to flow through without damaging the streambanks.   
  • Citron Creek (See link to video overview of this project) – This project was coordinated by Paul Krahn and included the installation or rock riprap, boulders, log deflectors, cross-channel logs, and a vortex weir. More than 3000 cubic yards of spoils was removed from the valley to allow for greater floodwater capacity and to reconnect the stream to the floodplain.  An estimated 980 tons of soil was eroding into the stream annually, contributing about 1,000 pounds of phosphorous a year that has now been eliminated.  Paul worked with a first-time contractor and provided a great deal of time working on-site to complete the project. 
  • Warner Creek – Paul Krahn collaborated with the SEWTULee Wulff, and Gary Borger Chapters of TU on Warner Creek, a Class II trout stream in Vernon County. The project opens 0.9 miles of Warner creek to public access.  A total of 17 actively eroding streambank sites were stabilized with rock riprap.  The project included the installation of 22 lunkers, built by the SEWTU Chapter and other TU volunteers.   The roadway shoulder was widened for parking and three stiles were installed by the Lee Wulff TU and Gary Borger TU chapters.   
  • South Fork of the Kinnickinnic – Working with the Kiap Chapter of TU, Wisconsin DNR installed nine ERO structures in a section of old habitat work on the South Fork of the Kinni, located in Pierce County, due to a large sand bedload filling in the habitat.   
  • Grant River – Wisconsin DNR, using NRCS agricultural dollars, executed a project on the Grant River, about mile and a half north of Lancaster, WI.  This project included bank stabilization and soil removal and the addition of root wads for fish habitat.   
  • Kittleson Creek – Wisconsin DNR executed a project on Kittleson Creek in western Dane County.  This project involved soil and box elder removal to stabilize the banks.  Box elder were used to install root wad complexes for habitat and for large brush bundles to narrow the stream. 
  • The Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter completed 3,200 feet of stream restoration work on Six-Mile Branch  upstream from County Highway QThe Nohr Chapter collaborated with the Wisconsin DNR, and the Elliott Donnelley, Lee Wulff, and Southern Wisconsin Chapters of TU on this project.  

Partial list of Wisconsin Projects scheduled for 2021 

Projects planned for 2021 include: work on Conway creek in Crawford County, a feeder stream to Tainter Creek; Coon Valley in La Crosse county; and Timber Coulee in Vernon county.  The Coon creek project work will be done by the DNR fisheries crew while the other projects will be executed by private contractors.   

Kinnickinnic River – The TUDARE team is working on securing funding for the removal of the last two dams on the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wi. This is a multi-million-dollar, multi-year project.  

Willow Creek – Wisconsin DNR will be working on Willow Creek in Richland County this summer.  The plan is to remove large volumes of soil, and install root wads, boulders, and vortex weirs. 

Hefty Creek – This project plan is focused on bank stabilization for fish habitat followed by the installation of cross channel logs, root wads, and vortex weirs.   

Black Earth Creek – Wisconsin DNR is also looking into starting work on Black Earth Creek and its tributaries in 2021 or 2022.  

Manley Creek, Jennings Creek, and Rolke Creek – Projects are also planned for Manley Creek in Sauk County, and Jennings and Rolke Creeks in Columbia County.  

Conway Creek 

Conway Creek project will be completed this year and is new addition to the DNR public fishing easement program.  This is an unclassified coldwater stream that is a feeder stream to Tainter creek in upper portion of the Tainter creek watershed.  This stream is a your typical boxelder tree lined stream fed by a number of strong flowing coldwater springs.  Recent historic flooding has caused excessive streambank erosion and degraded trout habitat.  This past fall the DNR selectively cleared the trees from the stream corridor in preparation for this springs construction.  The stream segment to be improved is 1375 ft. and extends to confluence of Tainter creek. There are 11 actively eroding streambanks that will be stabilized with rock riprap and prevent further loss of cropland and pasture land.  Trout habitat structures to be incorporated throughout the project include; a cross-channel log, log deflectors, bank boulders, and 1 escape log.  In addition, the streambanks will be sloped to increase the streams flood carrying capacity, making the stream more resilient to flooding.  

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.