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The anxiety of sharing nature PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 15:35

The Town of Grafton’s hiking and riding trail fits with its enlightened approach to open space protection and deserves residents’ support

A 15-mile trail through the countryside connecting natural areas and parks for walkers and horseback riders is just what you would expect from the Town of Grafton, a once-agricultural township that has become a leader in the preservation of environmentally significant open space in Ozaukee County.

    The Town of Grafton was instrumental in the Lion’s Den Nature Preserve, working with Ozaukee County and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to create a nature park of dramatic topography and sea views on the shore of Lake Michigan. The nature trail that will eventually run the length of the township is in keeping with that vision.

    The Lion’s Den land east of County Highway C three miles south of Port Washington could have been a luxury home development. That was in the offing, and it certainly would have inflated the town’s tax base, but at the expense of denying public access to some of the last undeveloped lakeshore land in the county.

     Lead by Town Chairman Lester Bartel, the Grafton Town Board provided crucial support for what has become a popular retreat for nature lovers, bird-watchers, hikers and beachcombers. In that spirit, environmental protection has also flourished in the town through such initiatives as the Ulao Creek Partnership and landowners’ conservation easements and now the nature trail project being overseen by the town’s Open Space Commission.

    The trail is a long-term work in progress, and that work has only just begun with a one-mile stretch along Falls Road between Highway C and Lake Shore Road. Nonetheless there is a move afoot to block the trail as it is now planned.

    A petition signed by more than 20 residents opposed to the trail was presented to the Town Board April 11. Some of the signers cited concerns about safety, littering and intrusions on private property.

     Disappointing as it is, this response hardly comes as a shock. Variations of it appear frequently when public use of land near private properties is proposed. Fear of the proximity of strangers to residential properties is perhaps understandable, but it also tends to be exaggerated.

    There are numerous examples around the county where public spaces and nearby homes coexist with few if any problems. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail passes next to numerous back yards on its route through the length of the county; the trail’s neighbors as well as strangers are among its enthusiastic users.

    People pass close to homes when visiting natural areas in the county, such the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port Washington that borders on residential neighborhoods, without conflict.

    The objecting Town of Grafton of residents obviously are not thrilled by the prospect of watching hikers or riders striding or clip-clopping past their properties, but this doesn’t cut it as a persuasive reason to oppose a public nature trail.

    A meeting between town officials and the petitioners may clear the air. Some of the property owners’ worries may be allayed. The petitioners may have constructive suggestions for the trail. In any case, the trail project should go forward.

    The trail concept—such a good idea for quiet, low impact access to the green spaces and natural beauty of the town’s fortunate geography—needs support, not opposition. Easements from property owners would enhance the quality of the trail, which otherwise will have to be built in road rights of way. Property tax revenue will not be used for the project, so financing help, as in grants from the state and other sources, will be important.    

    The best outcome of current conflict would be that the objecting residents come to see that having the trail nearby is not a nuisance, but an asset that contributes to the high quality of life in the Grafton countryside.

    That’s not far-fetched. Ads for the Waterstone residential development near the trail route boast of proximity to the Town of Grafton’s natural assets, including Lion’s Den, as reasons to buy property in the subdivision.

Missing the mussels lesson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 16:45

The photographs in last week’s Ozaukee Press of men and a boy fishing for smelt in the shallows along a Port Washington beach under a full moon were haunting not only in their beauty but in the memories they inspired of a time when Lake Michigan was healthy and full of life.

    The fishing recalled in those images by Press staff photographer Sam Arendt was once a rite of spring. The smelt run that made it possible was a spectacular phenomenon of nature. The small fish seeking streams in which to deposit and fertilize eggs swarmed to the shore each spring in schools of millions or billions.

    Fishermen swarmed too. Raising and lowering dip nets, they stood virtually shoulder to shoulder along the Port Washington harbor wall and on the breakwater. On the sandbars off the beaches, they dragged seines like the one in last week’s photos. Those long nets sometimes yielded buckets of smelt in a single pull.

    Thus did a fecund Lake Michigan provide a bounty of delicious protein along with a memorable experience harvesting it. This is not ancient history. It was part of life here late in the 20th century.Mussels

    In trying to recreate that experience, those few smelt fishermen of 2012 featured in the Press harvested a handful of tiny smelt. They were lucky to get that, for the smelt population has been decimated by the corruption of the Great Lakes ecosystem by invasive species.

     Neither this nor the similar decline in the numbers of chubs, perch, native lake trout and other valuable species is news to people who care about Lake Michigan. Others, though, including federal government officials who should be concerned about threats to the world’s most important freshwater resource, seem clueless.

    This was evident—with irony—when in March the U.S. Coast Guard issued a federal rule intended to make the lakes safe from new invasions by organisms that can destroy native species. The rule affects ballast water in ships, the source of the invaders that have already damaged the lakes so profoundly. It was long overdue, yet when it came it was a disappointment that fully deserves the too-little-too-late label.

     According to Great Lakes advocates, citing experts in freshwater biology, the new rule, which will eventually require filtering and disinfecting equipment on ships, is not stringent enough to protect the lakes. Of more immediate concern, the regulations will not even take effect for some ships until 2021.

    So the lakes remain vulnerable. Further predation by invasive species is inevitable.

    It is nothing short of amazing that a lesson as dramatic as the invasion of the Great Lakes by zebra and quagga mussels does not yet seem to have the full attention of authorities that have influence over the lakes’ future.

    The mussels, presumably only a few in the ballast water taken on by an ocean-going ship in foreign waters and discharged in the Great Lakes, arrived about two decades ago. In the short time since then they spread so fast that they have completely colonized the five Great Lakes—with catastrophic effect on native aquatic life.

    By eating microscopic plant cells and plankton that is the foundation of the food chain, the mussels are starving native fish populations. By filtering almost every drop of the Great Lakes and clarifying the water far beyond what nature intended, they are promoting the growth of the  poisonous algae that fouls beaches.

    There is no getting rid of the mussels. They are likely here forever. Hard as it is to do, that disaster must be written off. Now is the time to worry about the hundreds of other invasive species scientists have identified that are surely on the way, including infectious bacteria that could wipe out lake fish.

    “The damage to come may be worse than we’ve seen,” warned Andrew Cohen, director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions.

    Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway to ocean ships has been proposed as the one sure way to shut the door to more ship-borne alien creatures that will speed the Great Lakes’ death throes. It should be done. The economic impact of the loss of a relatively small and steadily declining volume of foreign shipping would surely be less than that of the ruin of the lakes as a recreational resource.

    Given the weakness of the latest attempt to restrict the delivery of foreign organisms, closing the lakes to foreign shipping might be the only action that could keep alive the chance, however faint, that the bounty of the lakes might somehow, someday be restored.

    For now, that bounty exists only in memories and in hopes recorded in a few beautiful pictures.



Image Information: Mounds of shells on the beach north of Port Washington attest to the colonization of the Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes by zebra and quagga mussels.  Photo by Bill Schanen IV

The 19-cent lesson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 15:24

Volunteers who pack food that costs pennies but provides a nutritious meal for children will get an insight into the difference between a people burdened with excess and those trying to survive with too little

“When you are good to others, you are best to yourself.”

    Benjamin Franklin wrote those typically wise words a long time ago, but their inherent truth will be fresh and relevant this Friday and Saturday for more than 500 people from Ozaukee County who will give their time to be good to some of the world’s least fortunate children.

    The good they will do is to pack meals for starving children. The meals will be distributed by Feed My Starving Children, a particularly admirable charity that distributes food in some 70 countries, including famine-stricken African nations and Haiti.

    Besides the satisfying knowledge that their work will put food in the mouths of children in danger of dying from the lack of it, the volunteers will be gifted with a revealing manifestation of the difference in human terms between rich and poor nations, a lesson that would benefit all Americans.

    The food they will be packing will provide nutritious meals for children at a cost of about 19 cents each.

    Yes, 19 cents worth of rice, soy nuggets, dehydrated vegetables and added vitamins and minerals is a sustaining meal for a child, according the food scientists, including some from the giant food marketer General Mills, who created the formula for the FMSC meals.

    Think of what that 19-cent meal says about the divide between the have-countries and the have-not-countries of the world. Most Americans would probably not condescend to eat the plain meals that will be packed by the volunteers. Food is so varied, appealing and abundant here that eating too much of it is said to be causing a national epidemic of obesity. In some of the countries where those humble meals will be avidly consumed, the national epidemic is malnutrition.

    That painful-to-behold contrast only adds to the significance of the good that will be done here this week and which is done all the time by FMSC.

    Founded by a Minnesota businessman, the charity is Christian oriented, but not affiliated with any denomination. The current Ozaukee County effort is being organized by three Port Washington-Saukville Catholic parishes, St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Mary’s and Immaculate Conception.

    Feed My Starving Children, which posts its financial statements and tax returns online, raised almost $25 million last year and spent 93% of it on food for children. The organizations that provide volunteers to pack the meals also help raise money to pay for them. The three parishes have a goal of raising $19,000 to pay for 100,000 meals.       

The meals packed by volunteers and shipped around the world by the FMSC network of relief organizations are so high in food value, the charity says, that they not only can save young lives from starvation, but they also abet health and growth in sufficiently nourished children.

    The dry mixture of ingredients, packed six meals to a bag, is simply prepared by combining with boiling water.

    Volunteers and financial contributions are still needed for the local project. Anyone who would like to test the validity of Ben Franklin’s aphorism and do his or her part to address the imbalance between the well-fed and poorly-fed countries of the world can sign up by contacting Linda Gottlieb at (414) 688-6462 or
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