City of Madison Logo
Cherokee Marsh - North Unit
Address:
6098 North Sherman Avenue

Hours: 4:00am - dusk
Park Type: Conservation
Acres: 916.03
Restroom: Yes
Drinking Water: Yes
Shoreline On: Yahara River

Strategically located at the head of Madison's lakes, Cherokee Marsh acts as a living sponge.  It filters upland runoff, using excess fertilizer to grow marsh plants, and slowly releasing cleaner water to the lakes below.  Cherokee Marsh is the largest wetlands in Dane County.  It is used by thousands of students each year for environmental education. 

The North Unit has 3.4 miles of trails along with a boardwalk and two observation decks.

posted July 2014

Oak Savannas in Cherokee Marsh Proving to be successful
 
The goal of the project is to restore the savanna to a scattering of oak trees, recreating the ecology that the Native Americans who lived on the land centuries ago would have experienced.  By reducing the canopy coverage from 100% to 50-75%, the Forestry Department is already seeing positive results even earlier than they anticipated. Another goal of the project was to create an environment that would attract animals, like the red-headed woodpecker, which were incapable of living in the oak savannas prior to the project.
 
One of the most exciting results of this restoration project is the presence of the red-headed woodpeckers, which were previously incapable of nesting in the area. The altered canopy coverage resulting from the project's harvest created an environment with everything the woodpeckers need to thrive. The open canopy allows them to fly through the trees to catch insects, and the open understory allows them to feed on the ground. The trees that were saved from being cut serve as great nesting and perching sites for the woodpeckers as well. Red-headed woodpeckers nesting in the oak savannas has been the greatest sign of the restoration's success, especially so early in the project.
 
Due to the increased amount of light reaching the ground, wildflowers are thriving in this area. Cranes and bluebirds have also been spotted due to the newly enriched ecology of the oak savanna.
 
After putting forth a plan to the Madison Parks Commission, Madison Parks was awarded an $18,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation in 2012. This is part of a total $120,000 put forward to restore a total of 40 acres of land throughout Madison.
 Madison Parks worked with a conservation crew from Operation Fresh Start, an organization that employs youth and adults to work on conservation projects and build new homes in Dane County, while they develop useful career skills.
 
The process of restoring the savanna at Cherokee Marsh began with eliminating exotic shrubs from the savanna using forestry mowers. Because this process doesn't kill the plants, foresters must go back to the area to spray the unwanted plants to kill them.
 
The next step in the project was to go through the area during the winter to mechanically harvest any trees that were bigger than 4 inches in diameter, but smaller than 14-16 inches.  Using heavy machinery, they harvested trees that fell in this range, cutting from the top down. Then, using a wood chipper, the trees were chopped into small pieces and spread over the ground. Sapling hickories and oaks that were reproducing were saved, as well as native Hawthorn shrubs.  Large oaks and standing dead trees were also saved because they are an important part of the wildlife's habitat, creating homes for birds.
 
The savanna was then set on fire in a controlled burn to eliminate unwanted plants. The Oaks are able to survive the burn, due to their thick bark. Burning the savanna also benefits native plants as they are able to grow back, unlike exotic plants which are eliminated, making Cherokee Marsh look more like it would have centuries ago to the Native Americans on the land.
 
The last step in the process is to treat the exotic plants that remained with an herbicide treatment. These treatments will continue this year and possibly through next year until the exotic shrubs are under control, before planting in new shrubs and plants.
 
A similar process has been done previously in other Madison parks, but this project was the first one to use tree-harvesting equipment.
 
Based on the success of this project, Madison Parks is hoping to implement restoration projects in other parks throughout Madison.