Enhance The Rock River Ecosystem through Shoreline Management

Rock River shoreline at River Bend Park, Horicon, WI

One of the goals of the Rock River Trail Initiative is to enhance the river ecosystem through natural resource conservation, stewardship and environmental planning and design. A number of dedicated individuals are actively engaged in river stewardship. Gae Bergmann, a certified master gardener in Dodge County, WI, shares her thoughts on actions we can take to help manage the shoreline of the Rock River.

How many of us truly appreciate the value of our river shoreline? Why it is important and how we can improve it are matters of simplicity and common sense. And, at the same time, we can accomplish what is very important to many people — promoting fish populations, enhancing wildlife habitat, stabilizing against shore erosion and improving water quality.

For example, river health can be helped when natural or man-made structures decrease runoff. One excellent protection is the use of rain gardens to slow runoff and filter out sediment, oil and lawn care chemicals. The latter, along with lawn fertilizers, can lead to fish kills and algae blooms. In addition, rain gardens, with their many varieties of flowers and grasses, are natural draws to butterflies and other wildlife, and add beauty and diversity to one’s property. The trees along the shoreline are also vital to lake health. They offer protection to fish, as they provide shelter from sun on very hot days, stabilize the shoreline and filter runoff water. Trees in the water are vital as nurseries for young fish.

One of the most efficient and simplest of health solutions for surface waters is the use of un-mowed vegetative buffer zones. These are spaces along the shoreline between the upland and water that can provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. The presence of native plants with deep roots, flowers, shrubs and trees keeps erosion at bay, helping to improve water clarity. The buffer zone reduces erosion caused by boat wakes, filters out contaminated water and helps maintain the riverine ecosystem. Traditionally mowed lawns are shallow rooted and provide little erosion protection and wildlife habitat. Mowed lawns require frequent maintenance and are often over fertilized. Some lawn fertilizers contain phosphorus, which when reaching surface waters from runoff will stimulate algae growth. Mowed lawns are also most alluring to flocks of geese!

We, as stewards of our streams and lakes, have considerable options to protect and restore the natural environmental conditions of our shoreline, which will help ensure the waters we love remain healthy for years to come.

Adapted from a presentation given by Gae Bergmann to Dodge County Lakes and Rivers Group and submitted to the Rock River Coalition. 

Photograph: Rock River shoreline at River Bend Park, Horicon, WI