Big Spring Branch 2008



The Big Spring Branch is settled in northwest Iowa County and northeast Grant County, Wisconsin. The project area is located on the Big Spring Fishery ground owned by the Wisconsin DNR (WiDNR) and a small segment owned and operated by Menke Brothers Farms. It has been a stream under close surveillance by the WiNDR for the past several years which continues to supply excellent information as to the effectiveness of the project. It is in conjunction with projects from years past; as you can see in the map below upon completion of the 2009 planned project there will be a continuous stretch of approximately three and a half miles of restoration.

The 2008 project outlined in red is of significant importance, it is the first project on Big Spring Branch to include many habitat structures to benefit reptiles, amphibians, non-game fish species but also includes three acres of shallow wetland scrape restoration and a thirty acre prairie planting. This holistic approach has prompted the US Fish and Wildlife Service to appoint Big Spring Branch as one of the ten National Waters to Watch in the nation an honor that is shared by only one other Midwestern stream restoration 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 it has received through the year. We also look forward to continuing these joint ventures in an ongoing habitat improvement effort.

The partners for the 2008 Big Spring Restoration Project are as follows:

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Iowa County Land Conservation Department
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Elliot Donnelley Chapter TU
  • Patagonia Corporation
  • Spring Creek Partners
  • Southwest Chapter of Pheasants Forever
  • Dave Roh Excavating
  • Madison Fishing Expo
  • Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort
Stream Restoration and Backwater Wetland

Project Activities

This year’s project provided a unique set of challenges. Horrendous June flooding significantly altered the stream and its’ planned designs. The flooding was the worst any local resident could remember, the waters were hillside to hillside, destroying any fence, tree, road or other object in its path. Thousands of yards of rock bed load, road base and hillside materials were moved through the system, in many instances being deposited in the former stream bed. The result was a drastically altered stream route and a huge change in the project scope and designs.

Post Flooding Situation
Same Area after Project Completion

These flood damages increased the planned intensity of work and drove the project costs up but in the end probably served to provide an overall better project. In many areas the stream moved itself away from the impinging hillside. With extensive bank shaping and seeding the system now has a very low floodplain elevation and is developing a well established protective sod cover. This will help allow the system to absorb and alleviate the damaging flooding velocities which the system in its prior deteriorated state could not.

Stream and Riparian Improvement Work

3,200’ of integrated bank stabilization and thousands of feet of bank shaping were installed to rehabilitate eroding stream corners. These practices will decrease the amount of sediment delivery to the stream and prevent future damage. The pre-construction conditions consisted of tall eroding stream corners. These corners acted as a chute, confining and increasing the flood water velocities. You can see in the above photo that great efforts were made to eliminate those tall banks into a gently sloping floodplain area. This will increase the cross section flooding area, creating greater volume capacity and decreased velocities, hence less damage.

Post Flooding; Wide Area with Tall Eroding Stream Corner
Post Construction: Stream Bank Stabilization, Deflectors and Boulder Retards

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 escape logs for a protected sunning location for snakes and turtles were installed and associated with a created scour holes.

Escape log and ½ Weir While Seeding is Establishing

Many small backwater pockets were created or maintained. These areas serve as tremendous recruitment areas for reptiles and amphibians and act as a refuge area for the young of these species and several types of minnows from the predatory waters of the main stream. A snake hibernaculum was created as an over wintering den for snake species such as garter, common water, western fox and milk.

Backwater Wetland Area

In addition three large shallow wetland scrapes were constructed in the adjoining floodplain. These scrapes very in size, are three to four feet in depth and have varying habitat features such as tree drops, islands and peninsulas. Then the remaining thirty acres will be seeded down with a native prairie mix consisting of dozens of grasses and forbs species.


The Big Spring Branch is one of the coldest, cleanest flowing streams in southwestern Wisconsin. Despite the dreadful flooding the project turned into a huge success. The clarity of the water through the system is amazing, structures place five to eight feet deep are clearly visible from the bank. The multitude of large and small scrapes with the diversity and cover of a tall warm season prairie mix will create a riparian corridor rich in biological diversity. The Nohr Chapter is very appreciative of the generous efforts of time and capital that was donated towards the successful completion of the 2008 Big Spring Restoration Project and look forward to continued support through the 2009 phase of this project.

Vortex Weir and Root Wad
Cross Channel Log and Boulder Retards
Section of 2007 Work: Note the Gentle Sloping Banks and Good Sod Cover Allowed This Segment to Survive The June Flooding Without Damage-The 2008 Project Now Has This Capability
Rock Bar On the Left Was Deposited By the June Flooding, Bank Erosion was 7’ Stream Bed to the Top of Bank
The Same Site Post Construction while Seeding was Establishing