Restoring the River of Pike

Pike River North of Braun Road facing North.

Did you know there is another major river in Racine other than the Root River? It’s called the Pike River and sections of it have been on the EPA’s Impaired Waters list since 1998.

Pike River Branches and Elevation
Pike River Branches by Applied Ecological Services, Pg 22.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes hosted an event on May 14 about the restoration of the Pike River, which has support from the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network. At this event, key stakeholders spoke about the process of restoring the first WI watershed to receive a DNR/EPA-approved 9-key element watershed restoration plan. For the past 15 years, seven miles of stream corridor have been restored throughout Mt. Pleasant. Now, they are working to strike a balance between the “Wisconn Valley” development and protecting past, present and future environmental investments. Kenosha County is in the process of restoring the section of the South Branch located in Petrifying Springs and further in the future.

Ecologists, elected officials, engineers, nonprofit organizations, and students have been working since 1983 to address flooding concerns around Willow Road. The flooding was caused by the natural characteristic of the Pike River wanting to meander. Because the Pike was straightly dammed and ditched to facilitate drainage and supply water for irrigation in the 1950s. In 1996, they began restoration planning to address the degraded habitat and chronic aquatic toxicity concerns to get it off of EPA’s list. Implementation of the plans started in 2000 and the North branch is looking great today. A great sign was the sighting of Northern Pike fish in the river last summer in phase four which is West of 2020 Oakes Rd, Racine.

Elected officials really make a difference in helping our environment, said ecologists Dr. Tim Ehlinger and Alice Thompson. Both stated many times that the restoration would not have gone so smoothly without Sonny Havn, a trustee on the Village of Mount Pleasant Board.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Havn is the president of the stormwater drainage commission. He said creating an environmental corridor around the watershed, which incorporated a multi-use trail, helped obtain grants for the restoration project.
  • Dr. Ehlinger is a UW-Milwaukee professor. He said the Pike River restoration is being used as a case study to create a community-engagement process applicable in other Great Lakes watersheds where there is a need to address conflicting perceptions and perspectives. In his application of the results related to Foxconn, he believes trust needs to be rebuilt with Foxconn and they need to facilitate more community involvement to do so.

    Pike River North Branch Phases
    Pike River North Branch Phases by Thompson & Associates Wetland Services, LLC, Pg 9.
  • Alice Thompson, the owner of Thompson and Associates Wetland Services, LLC., said that she and her associates continue to monitor and manage the watershed. They are currently fighting many invasive plant species to make room for robust native plants to thrive and attract pollinators. Specifically, the federally endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee was found in phase four of the wetland and they will be planting the bee’s favorite plants to help the population thrive again.

Overall, the North Branch of the Pike River is a one of a kind wetland restoration success story. If you ever have some time to kill, I highly recommend taking a stroll or bike ride along the multi-use trail. They even have some handicap accessible picnic areas along the delightful trek, and you are bound to see many beautiful birds, bees, and butterflies.