Harper's Slough Project

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Rotary Club Prairie du Chien High School students plant trees as part of the Harper’s Slough Project Friday. (Photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, Rotary Club Prairie du Chien students and other volunteers dig holes on one of the seven Harper's Slough Project islands to plant trees.


Harper’s Slough Project construction complete

McGregor Lake Project in final 

planning phase

By Ted Pennekamp


In the spirit of Earth Day, five boats launched from near Lynxville Friday morning with personnel from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and several volunteers to complete the Harper’s Slough Project. 

The group, which included about 15 students from Prairie du Chien High School who are part of the Rotary Club, as well as five community volunteers, spent several hours planting 500 trees consisting of swamp white oak and hackberry, said McGregor District FWS Manager Brandon Jones. Hundreds of willows were planted last year.

“The construction phase of the Harper’s Slough Project is now completed,” said Jones, who noted that some follow-up work still needs to be done on the $11.9 million project.

“It was a great day for tree planting,” said Jones. “The weather was warm and the mud got a little firmer throughout the day.”

The Harper’s Slough Project is an island restoration project in a 2,200-acre backwater near Lynxville. The project included construction of seven islands and three emergent wetlands. Construction began in April of 2015.

Harper’s Slough is a Habitat Rehabilitation Enhancement Program (HREP) project, and the Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin and Iowa DNRs were involved. Jones said the funding was 100 percent federal.

“This project should have a 50-year lifespan,” said Jones. “The whole ecosystem will benefit.”

Jones said, the Harper’s Slough Project will provide, not only migratory bird habitat, but also habitat for other mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. The islands were planted with trees made up of a diverse mix of hardwoods, willows and cottonwoods. Floodplain forest habitat will be improved, along with water clarity and sub-aquatic vegetation, said Jones.

Now that the Harper’s Slough Project is essentially complete, the much anticipated McGregor Lake Project has moved up the priority list. Jones said the McGregor Lake Project in Pool 10 between Prairie du Chien and Marquette/McGregor is in the final phases of planning.

The McGregor Lake Project is also a HREP project and will have 100 percent federal funding. It was put on hold for a number of years due to lack of funding, but is now back in the planning process. The McGregor Lake Project may encompass 580 acres. Public meetings regarding the McGregor Lake Project were first held in area communities in 2010. 

The scope of the McGregor Lake Project is not yet known, but it could include various features such as restoring or strengthening the barrier islands and constructing small islands within the lake to reduce wave action. It could also improve adjacent forest habitats. 

In 2010, the main problems in McGregor Lake and the surrounding area were identified as loss of overwintering areas and loss of fish and wildlife nursery habitats. The lake is a wide expanse of shallow water with little habitat diversity. Since 1989, there has been a decrease in the amount of emergent and submersed vegetation, loss of depth in the backwaters and island erosion along the main channel and East Channel. 

The majority of habitat decline is from the impacts of sedimentation due to changes in connectivity to the area brought on by impoundment by the locks and dams. Island erosion is partially due to the above reason, and also from recreational boat traffic and loss of trees in the area. Wind and wave action re-suspends sediments and prevents establishment of vegetation. Flow from the main channel and East Channel threatens to break through the barrier islands into the lake.

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