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Cherokee Marsh - South Unit (School Road)
Address:
5002 School Road

Hours: 4:00am - dusk
Park Type: Conservation
Acres: 255.05
Restroom: No
Drinking Water: No
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 School Road/South Unit has 3.1 miles of trails for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer.

The City of Madison has lost approximately one square mile of wetlands in Cherokee Marsh, along the Yahara River, since 1849. In 2003 the Madison Parks Division received a $10,000 Lake Protection Grant from the Wisconsin DNR to fund experimental wetland restoration techniques.
These wetlands "floated up" and were lost when the water level of nearby Lake Mendota rose about four feet in 1849 due to the construction of a dam at nearby Tenney Park. Another dam, rebuilt shortly after 1900, raised the level of the lake another  foot. So today Lake Mendota 's water level is five feet higher than the pre-dam conditions.  Often, these sedge mats, or bogs, that have floated up break off and float away.
After comparing aerial photos of the upper Yahara River from 1937 with current photos of the area, it was determined that approximately 275 acres of high quality wetlands have been destroyed since 1937. Using the Public Land Survey Records from 1834, which documented the width of the Yahara River at several points, Parks staff were able to calculate that the combined wetland losses since 1849 are 640 acres (one square mile).
Volunteers and staff  installed mitigation techniques to establish submergent and emergent wetland plants in the Yahara River which help protect the fragile, floating shoreline. The plants  help buffer the effects of erosion on the floating shoreline, and will create a vegetation breakwater. Foraging carp and wind-generated waves are the two most destructive erosive forces to these fragile wetlands.  Recently the Wisconsin DNR worked with a private contractor to harvest carp in Cherokee Lake to reduce their population in the river.
Another project focused on restoring the hydrology to the wetlands at Cherokee Marsh North Unit, east of North Sherman Avenue and north of the Dane County Regional Airport. Madison Parks worked with the airport on a mitigation project that filled two miles of ditches north of the airport in 2000. In the last three years, Parks worked with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to fill drainage ditches on the eastside of North Sherman Avenue.
 
In 2012, two storm water ponds were constructed at Cherokee Marsh South Unit along Wheeler Road. This project has provided benefits to both the wildlife and the water, by improving the quality of the water before if flows into Lake Mendota.
To create the ponds, two large storm water ditches that cut through a peat wetland were filled in. After pipes were places in them to provide outlets for storm water ponds, the ditches were filled. This helped restore local hydrology by preventing artificial drainage and eliminated flooding caused by storm water.
 
Substantial progress has been made in the Upper Yahara River Project by establishing native plants in the river bed. TheAmerican Lotus water lily has been the most successful plant introduction, as it covers 80 acres and provides food and cover for wildlife. The population of submergent plats has also significantly increased as a result. The increase in plant cover benefits the fish populations, and in turn provides a food source for resident birds.
 
By filling in ditches, using peat from nearby areas, the plant diversity in the marsh has increased. Throughout 2014 and 2015, plans have been made to fill all of the drainage ditches along the eastside of North Sherman Ave. There are also plans to cut the remaining trees in the ditches, which would not naturally be present in a habitat like Cherokee Marsh. Removing the trees will create a more open area, making the habitat more suitable for wildlife like marsh hawks and short-eared owls.
 
The restoration project in South Cherokee ponds has been very successful. Native aquatic plants have grown from seeds, plants, or tubers planted in the storm water ponds. The ponds are being used by migrating waterfowl and resident birds, like Great Blue Heron, are seen often.