Big Spring Branch 2007


The Big Spring Branch is settled in northwest Iowa County, Wisconsin. The project area is located on the Big Spring Fishery ground owned by the Wisconsin DNR (WiDNR). It has been a stream under close surveillance by the WiNDR for the past several years. Five years ago a partnership between the Nohr chapter and WiDNR collaborated to construct roughly 3,500’ of brook trout emphasized habitat restoration. Since then, fishery biologists have been monitoring the stream to research if not utilizing lunker structures in project work favors brook trout over brown trout. It was discovered that the creation of a more natural riffle-pool sequence benefits both species, but it does tend to favor the propagation of stronger brook trout populations. With this research in mind the restoration work in 2007 included extensive scouring structures and techniques to increase channel sinuosity. The Big Spring watershed was historically under heavy agricultural pressure. In the past few decades that pressure has eased causing an increase
in groundwater recharge, higher water quality and lower water temperatures,
but due to the historic sedimentation deliveries, the stream suffered from a lack of good overhead cover and many eroding stream banks. The site is property owned by the WiDNR, but due to budget constraints has not received the proper amount of applied management; the corridor was strewn with weedy invasive species and heavy stands of box elder.

Many vertical banks and invasive species existed on-site before the project

Sponsorship and Partners
The role of the Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter in this project was to serve as a project sponsor and leader. The chapter does not have the physical or financial resources to undertake a project of this magnitude alone; it is necessary to collaborate with other organizations for volunteer labor and financial assistance. The Nohr chapter, as always after any major project, is indebted and grateful for the financial and physical efforts we have received through this year. We also look forward to continuing these
joint ventures in an ongoing habitat improvement effort.

The partners for the 2007 Big Spring Restoration Project are as follows:

  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Elliot Donnelley Chapter TU
  • Lee Wulff Chapter TU
  • National TU Embrace-A-Stream
  • Wisconsin State Council of TU
  • Madison Fishing Expo
  • Badger Fly Fishers
  • Iowa County Conservation Program
  • Pheasants Forever
  • Pete Esser
  • Dave Roh Excavating
  • Riverside Sawmill Inc.

Project Activities
There were three main goals with the Big Spring Restoration Project. The primary focus was to recreate overhead cover in the stream with structures that scour holes and add sinuosity to the stream. Second, is increase water quality by installing integrated stream bank stabilization and shaping back steep banks to reduce the sediment delivery to the stream and also protect Big Spring Road. In addition to adding habitat for sport fisheries the Nohr Chapter strived to raise the bar in cold water fisheries restoration by also including many habitat techniques to enhance habitat for non-game species, reptiles, amphibians, plant communities and any life
forms which utilize the stream corridor. Turtle lunkers, escape logs, log deflectors, vortex weirs, cross channel logs, wetland restorations, tree drops in wetlands, reconnecting slow backwater areas to primary stream flow, box elder clearings and prairie plantings are some of the techniques that were instituted in the 2007 Big Spring Restoration Project.

The first step in working towards accomplishing these goals was a series of work days in which roughly 2,000 feet of stream footage was cleared of invasive brushy and tree species. These work days were conducted early in 2007, volunteers from many different trout unlimited chapters were on hand during those chilly days, but luckily some master chefs had a hot meal waiting for them when the work was done.

After the heavy machinery rolled through the Nohr Chapter held its second annual “Blue River Watershed Celebration” on site to display the recent work. Presentations were given by chapter members to emphasize the importance of these habitat projects and how we go about these large projects. Also, WiDNR fishery manager Gene VanDyck was on hand and gave a stream shocking demonstration. Much to the chagrin of some unsuccessful fisherman Mr. VanDyck not only showed that there were plenty of fish in those holes but even a few large ones.

Stream and Riparian Improvement Work
950’ of integrated bank stabilization and thousands of feet of bank shaping were installed to rehabilitate eroding stream corners. These practices will significantly decrease the amount of sediment delivery to the stream but also protect 380 feet of a local township road which was being threatened by the meandering stream.

Before Picture – Wide, Straight, Silty run on Big Spring

After Picture – Installed Bank Shaping, Rock Deflectors and Vortex Weir

Cross channel logs, vortex weirs and sets of boulder retards were installed to create scouring and deep holes for the benefit of all fish species. These areas also created shadows in the current which allows for fine sediment deposition which turtles such as the Wood, Map and Blanding’s turtles can utilize for over wintering habitat. The Wood and Blanding’s turtles are both on the threatened species list in Wisconsin. Rock Deflectors were placed in straightened areas to recreate meanders in the stream and increase depth/velocities to add habitat and scour out sediment and reclaim native gravel beds. Root wads to accentuate fish habitat and an escape log
for a protected sunning location for snakes and turtles was installed and associated with a created scour hole.

Also, areas of backwater wetlands were left connected to the stream. These areas serve as tremendous recruiting areas for amphibians and serve as a warmer water sanctuary for minnows that would otherwise be forced into the predatory waters of the main flow of the stream.

Installed Log Deflector and Backwater Wetland– After severe flood events took
place in early September

An embanked wetland currently existed but was on the verge of total
failure. The embankment was corrected and tree drops were added to the
pool area to increase the amount of vertical, woody habitat. There were also
two large wetland scrapes created. The site has been seeded and mulched
with a temporary cover for the winter but early in the spring of 2008 one of
the project partners, Pheasants Forever, will seed the entire area into a native
prairie mix.

Repaired Embankment as cover seeding is establishing

Constructed Shallow Wetland Scrape

The Big Spring Branch is one of the coldest, cleanest flowing streams in southwestern Wisconsin. Because of this it possesses some of the greatest potential for a high quality, naturally producing Brook Trout Fishery. Due to the fact that all of the land is owned by the WiDNR it presents the partnership with the unique ability to design and implement with the only considerations being for the benefit and propagation of all plant and animal life in the stream corridor. The WiDNR’s ownership also presents an almost continuous span of nearly three miles of fishing and recreational opportunities. The Nohr Chapter is very appreciative of the generous efforts of time and capital that was donated towards the successful completion of the 2007 Big Spring Restoration Project. We are also optimistic that these partnerships can continue in the future as we look to progress downstream
further in our rehabilitation efforts over the next few years.

This photos displays where the 2007 restoration work ties into work performed in the summer of 2003
This photo displays the Nohr Chapter’s most recent initiatives; stream bank stabilization,
stream habitat work, prairie restoration and wetland creation/restoration integrated into
one project.