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.

Mowing Marsh Hay in the East Marsh of Cherokee- begins July 6, 2012

Before the advent of drainage tiles farmers would mow the wild marsh hay in our peat wetlands when the ground was dry in late summer or fall.  These areas were native wet prairies or sedge meadows.  Since the time of mowing varied from year to year to mowing did not affect survival of the native flowers, sedges, and grasses.

This particular marsh was mowed for hay at least back to 1920's.  During the drought of 1976 a portion of the marsh was planted to corn for that single year.  After that time it was occasionally mowed for hay.

Why mow for hay today?  A lot has changed on the landscape since this land was farmed.  Nearby residential development increased stormwater runoff into this marsh.  Under natural conditions this peat marsh was a low nutrient ecosystem dominated by plants adapted to this condition.  The addition of nutrients to the marsh has favored the growth of exotic species e.g. reed canary grass that thrives under those conditions.

The mowing of marsh hay is a way of removing nutrients from the marsh in an ecologically sensitive manner.   As nutrient levels are reduced we hope to increase the plant diversity in this marsh to benefit wildlife.

The City of Madison has lost over 640 acres of wetland in Cherokee Marsh, along the Yahara River, since 1849.  These wetlands "floated up" and were lost when the water level of Lake Mendota was raised about 4 feet in 1849 with the construction of a dam at nearby Tenney Park.  A new dam built shortly after 1900 raised the lake level another 3 feet.  Many times these floating sedge mats, or bogs, will break off and float away. Recently, the Madison Parks Division received a $10,000 Lake Protection Grant to fund experimental wetland restoration techniques.

Earlier this year the city analyzed some historic 1937 air photos of the upper Yahara River.  By comparing to current air photos of the area, it was determined that approximately 275 acres of high quality wetlands have been destroyed since 1937.  The Parks Division Staff then did additional research using the 1834 Public Land Survey Records for Wisconsin.  These records documented the width of the Yahara River at several points where section lines crossed the river.  This information enabled the staff to calculate wetland losses prior to 1937.  The combined wetland losses since the first dam was installed in 1849 are more than 640 acres (1 square mile). With such a large loss, the importance of this project is obvious, and this is where the city volunteers come into play.

Volunteers will be involved in experimental techniques that involve establishing submergent and emergent wetland plants in the Yahara River to help protect the fragile "floating shoreline".  By establishing these plants in front of the "floating shoreline" they will help buffer the effects of erosion and in effect will create a vegetation breakwater.  Wind generated waves and foraging carp are the two most destructive erosive forces working against these fragile wetlands.  Various types of wire fence enclosures will be installed to protect the plants from carp, muskrats, and geese.

The citizens of Madison have shown that they are willing to get dirty and wet in trying to save this lost marshland.  Not only will this project help protect and enhance wildlife habitat, but will also trap nutrients before they reach Lake Mendota.