As long as we’ve been talking about designing natural landscaping, I thought I should mention something about shoreline landscaping. In Wisconsin we are fortunate to have many lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. Here in the Fox Valley, we have the Winnebago Pool Lakes System which consists of Lakes Winnebago, Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan. This System consists of 165,174 acres of water and empties into the Fox River and ultimately into Lake Michigan of the Great Lakes. Its other main tributary is the Wolf River. All together this watershed drains about 5,700 square miles or almost 12% of Wisconsin.
This System didn’t always consist of lakes, however. Historically, Lakes Poygan, Butte des Morts and Winneconne were large river marshes and not the open water we see today. When the locks and dams were constructed on the Fox River, the water levels raised 2 to 3 feet and these large river marshes became shallow lakes.
Because much of the area around Lake Poygan remained wetlands, it hasn’t been developed as heavily as the rest of the lakes in the System. But most of the shore land of the other lakes of the Winnebago Pool Lakes System are considered prime real estate.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN DEVELOPMENT MOVES IN?
Many of the communities around the System get their drinking water and discharge their wastewater into the System, so it isn’t surprising that USEPA lists the Winnebago Pool Lakes System as impaired water. So what can shore land owners do to help diminish this dilemma?
SOLVING THE DILEMMA WITH NATURAL LANDSCAPING
If you are a shore land resident, you can do a lot! As shoreline parcels are developed, the typical resident wants to mow all the way down to the water so they can see the water. Who can blame them? That’s what they paid the big bucks for — to see the water. But what happens to the body of water when the natural landscaping is removed from its shoreline? Algae blooms (from high levels of phosphorus), pollution runoff (from lawns and sewage/stormwater systems) and shoreline damage (from ice shoves, waves caused by boats, development and wind fetch). Probably not a satisfactory alternative.
To help diminish this dilemma, some states and local municipalities restrict how much shoreline can be cleared; some more drastic than others. In Wisconsin, these buffer zones vary between 75 feet from the ordinary high-water mark of any navigable water to 35 feet, depending upon circumstances. Then to help the homeowner see the water and to achieve a healthy and aesthetically pleasing transition zone, some states and local municipalities offer incentive programs which include counseling on design and site preparation/maintenance as well as financial assistance for the development of natural landscaping, shoreline and streambank protection, and rain garden construction. To find out more about programs available in your area, check with your local Land and Water Conservation Department or Department of Natural Resources.
The graph below is a good depiction of the various layers of natural vegetation found near the shoreline. Use it as your guide as you plan your shore land natural landscaping.
Here’s a good resource for Midwestern Native Plants Identification and Selection for buffer zones.
Here’s the National Wetland Plant List.
Healthy Lakes 350ft2 Native Planting Companion Guide from UW-Extension Lakes, Wisconsin Lakes Partnership