Sauk Creek Woods Restoration Neighborhood Issues & Concerns

SAUK CREEK WOODS NEIGHBORHOODS PRIMARY CONCERNS
WITH THE CITY’S SAUK CREEK RESTORATION PROJECT –
SAUK CREEK NEIGHBORHOODS – POSITION PAPER
December 4, 2019

INTRODUCTION

The City of Madison is planning to rework the Sauk Creek Woods drainage that runs
from Tree Lane to Old Sauk, abutting the west side of Tamarack Trails and several other
neighborhoods. The City’s primary concern is the extent of the erosion which is occurring in the
drainage. They believe it contributes to the silting of the retention ponds north of Old Sauk Road,
between High Point Road and Westfield.

The channel in the drainage is braided in multiple locations and continues to erode the
area, which is impacting larger trees and the floor of the area generally.
The City’s plans will likely involve creating a single channel, which would be wider and
more gradual than the existing channel. That is intended to help control erosion and hopefully
protect against the further loss of trees. The City also needs to improve access to the sewer line
that runs through the area.

The scope and details of the plan when it was initially unveiled raised significant
concerns with a group of concerned neighbors. Tamarack’s Board approved a working group,
which was initially comprised of Tamarack citizens. That group has been expanded to include a
number of concerned citizens from adjoining neighborhoods.

The overarching goal of the group is to preserve the character and natural habitat of the
Sauk Creek Woods and green space which currently exists. Neighborhood concerns, are focused
on both aesthetics and the importance of providing a natural habitat for the large variety of birds
and mammals that are found in the area. We believe it is also important to maintain a natural
wooded and ground green vegetation – as opposed to City Engineering Dept. 2018 presentation,
that would of fundamentally altering the existing character (“will look substantially different”) of
what is one of the most unique and an unusual, valuable part of our neighborhoods and
Madison’s west side.

A list of specific concerns that we would like to see addressed in advance of the
project moving forward is attached. It is fair to say that one of the most salient concerns is
the possible loss of trees and species more generally. The potential to dramatically alter the
area by widening the channel and removing existing trees and other habitat in a manner
which would negatively impact both aesthetics and wildlife must be balanced against the
need to improve the drainage.

During 2019, neighborhood concerns were heightened by the nature of the work
recently completed by the city, between Tree Lane and High Point Road. The work
effectively stripped away virtually all of the vegetation in that area, leaving only a relatively
small number of trees. We have been assured that the City views our area as distinctly different
from that area and the approach taken there will not serve as a template for the drainage between
High Point Road and Old Sauk Road.

This is a significant undertaking which is needed to address concerns with the drainage.
The manner in which this is carried out will have a significant long-term impact on the
surrounding neighborhoods and the resident flora and fauna.

We believe it is critically important that the City draw on appropriate expertise
from the City and potentially from the University, the DNR, and other sources to ensure
that preserving species diversity and enhancing the biosphere including existing trees and
other plants are given significant consideration.

The initial plans envisioned a bike path and at least at one point suggested a paved,
lighted bike path might be proposed. There is strong opposition to a bike path of that sort,
and a general sense that a bike path is neither necessary nor consistent with the character
of the area. An unpaved pedestrian path would be preferable, and should be located with due
consideration for the privacy of homes abutting the green space.

We believe it is critically important that the adjacent neighborhoods as well as
others be in a position to actively participate in the planning process in a way that ensures
a resource that is of significant value to us as neighbors and the city more broadly is
enhanced by this project rather than sacrificing the valuable habitat and character of the
area.

SPECIFIC NEIGHBORHOOD CONCERNS

Based on input from a large number of residents from Tamarack Trails, Sauk Creek, Walnut Grove and Wexford Neighborhoods – over a twelve month period, with knighthood meetings and Sauk Creek Woods Restoration Working Committee – has identified the following primary concerns from each of the neighborhoods:

1. The group is aware that issues with erosion need to be addressed and acknowledges that will require significant work on the channel. The group’s goal is to ensure that the work is done in a manner that maintains, to the extent possible, the overall character of the area and does not result in the needless sacrifice of valuable trees and other habitat.

That implies a design which is not overly broad be adopted. There have been suggestions that the use of large rocks to line the channel, as was done in Owen Woods, would be helpful in controlling the erosion without requiring a much broader, shallower channel with its attendant impacts.

2. There is uniform opposition to the notion of a paved, lighted bike path. A paved path would encourage bike traffic moving at a pace that is not consistent with safe pedestrian use. Such a path would also significantly alter the character of the area and the nature of its use. The notion that the bike path would be part of a broader bike commuter plan is not realistic. The primary bike commuter routes in Madison are East-West. The Sauk Creek drainage area runs North-South. There are already bike paths running north and south on Westfield Road to the east and Highpoint Road to the west. Neither is heavily used, and a bike path in the drainage area would be less convenient than either of the existing routes. The cost of any such project would be significant and would prove a detriment rather than a benefit.

The majority of members favor a pedestrian path of crushed limestone or a similar substance. A number of neighbors expressed a strong preference for a pedestrian pathway that is situated in a way that does not unduly intrude on the privacy of neighboring residences. The area is wide enough so that should not be inconsistent with a usable path.

3. The City has undertaken a census of trees in the area. We understand that no decision has been made as to the number of trees that would need to be removed. Such an estimate will not be available until the drainage study, which is now in process, has been completed. There are a number of invasive species, including buckthorn, and efforts are underway to begin cutting some of those species back. The workgroup is supportive of those efforts, and the need to limit invasive species more generally.

Many of the oaks in the area are at or near their useful lifespan. This will likely require removal of some of the older trees in order to create breaks in the canopy which permit younger trees to flourish. That said, the workgroup believes it is important to preserve many of the older trees that are an important part of the habitat and critical to the character and aesthetics of the area. While removing
the invasive species is a worthwhile goal, there is a concern that the area not be stripped of the majority of its vegetation, as occurred in the recently completed project between High Point and Tree Lane. When larger trees are cut down, at least some of the larger segments of those trees should be left in the area to provide habitat.

The City’s forestry experts should be involved in the decision-making. To the extent possible, input from experts at the DNR and the University should be sought. The process should include reforestation, including planting native shrubs and trees to replace what has to be removed.

4. Sauk Creek is a valuable wildlife habitat. One of our members has identified more than 60 species of birds frequenting the area. There are also a number of small mammals and other species. We believe it is vitally important that whatever is done to address the concerns with the channel does not create an adverse effect on a habitat that is all too rare on the west side of Madison.

5. Concerns have also been expressed about the profile of the drainage. Presumably, it will have to be deepened and widened as well. While we understand that ultimately form is going to follow function, we would prefer a narrower channel that does not impinge on as many trees and does not occupy a larger proportion of the area than is necessary to provide an adequate channel.

6. It is not clear at this point what the plans are with respect to a retention pond. It has been suggested that the area which abuts High Point Road just south of Old Sauk Road may become such a pond. A growing part of that area is wetlands. To the extent possible, we would like an effort made to preserve those wetlands, which both serve as a filter and, in our mind, and more aesthetically pleasing than retention ponds such as the one that was created just south of Monroe Street across from Gates and Brovi. If a retention pond is required, appropriate landscaping should be part of the plan.

We look forward to working with the City to achieve the necessary improvements in the drainage, while preserving and hopefully enhancing the character of the area. // 12-4-19 .