Lowery Creek Watershed Initiative
At 8,600 acres, the Lowery Creek watershed is small by most standards, but is packed with more intriguing beauty, culture, and history than your average watershed. Even the trout in Lowery Creek are special, being one of only two “heritage breed” brook trout populations that exist in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.
Like all Driftless Area cold water streams, Lowery Creek begins in the springs that dot the surrounding hills. It starts near the aptly-named Far Look Road, then winds through a four-mile long valley before filling the pond at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate and spilling into the Lower Wisconsin River. A primary tributary follows Hillside School Road before flowing into Lowery Creek just upstream of the Taliesin pond.
The valley’s slopes hold the mix of woods, prairies, savannas, crops, and pastures the Driftless Area is known for. Add to that Unity Chapel, Taliesin, great biking and hiking, fascinating history, and the enduring influence of Frank Lloyd Wright – and you have a very special place.
We are working toward a watershed that, fifty or more years from now, will be even more beautiful and bountiful than it is today. It will be known for its aesthetics, progressive agriculture, rich biodiversity, cultural tourism, and engaged community. It will serve as a model for our region and beyond.
OUR STORY AND VISION
In 2014, watershed residents invited DALC to join conversations about how to protect and enhance their water quality, viewsheds, working lands, natural lands, and quality of life going forward. They were motivated to take action, but needed some guidance.
Those conversations evolved into the Lowery Creek Watershed Initiative. Over the past five years, DALC has helped to coordinate planning and programming for this effort, alongside a very engaged team of residents and partner organizations.
Seated at the table are Taliesin Preservation, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Iowa County Land Conservation Department, Town of Wyoming, Cates Family Farm, Hillside Pastures, Stapleton Farm, Otter Creek Organic Farm, and other individuals who bring a wealth of experience to this effort.
Today, our key activities include Evenings Afield field trips, water monitoring, mapping the watershed, special workshops, and assisting with Taliesin’s Driftless Farm Tours. A 2019 River Planning Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provided key support for our water monitoring and mapping projects, plus a streambank management workshop.
One evening per month, we set aside time for learning in the field from experts and each other, socializing with like-minded landowners, and seeing results of management methods on different properties. Our Evenings Afield have been very well-received, and every year we strive to broaden our audience. All are welcome.
In 2021, topics will range from solar energy to regenerative fruit growing to the history of Wyoming Valley farms and so much more. Local experts like Mary Pohlman, Mike Degan, Jean Unmuth, and others share their wisdom this year. You can find more information about our 2021 sessions and register to attend here.
To assess water quality in Lowery Creek and monitor it long-term, our partnership participates in the statewide Water Action Volunteers (WAV) citizen science program. WAV provides training in water sampling methods plus equipment, data sheets, and an online database for entering results.
Stream monitoring parameters include streamflow, dissolved oxygen, temperature, water transparency, aquatic animals, insects, and fish habitat. Stream Phosphorus is also collected at select sites.
Three teams of volunteers do monthly sampling of five sites on the two branches of Lowery Creek. Site locations provide information that will help us understand connections between land use and water quality. That information and analyses will help guide future land management.
Water sampling occurs the second Tuesday of the month, from May-October. It is easy, fun, and a great way to learn. To join us or learn more, contact Mike Degen via email or 608-588-5346.
Coordination of this project is supported by a Wisconsin DNR River Planning Grant.
MAPPING THE WATERSHED
To understand what is happening on the land in the Lowery Creek watershed today, we are developing a multi-layered map that incorporates information that is available through state and county Geographic Information Systems (GIS) sources AND information collected from conversing with landowners and walking the land.
Layers will include topography, land use, vegetation type, soil type, frog breeding sites, actively managed or restored uplands, actively managed stream, cultural sites, water monitoring sites, concentrations of invasive plants, and more. We will continue to add and update map layers, and will include notes on cropping history, cultural history, and other aspects of land use.
Once completed, the public will be able to access this map, turn layers on and off to study various relationships, and use the information to guide land management activities. Our team will use it to identify opportunities for ecological restoration, get people talking about what is happening on the land, and think at the watershed level. Coordination of this project is supported by a Wisconsin DNR River Planning Grant.
SPECIAL WORKSHOPS AND TOURS
From time-to-time, the Lowery Creek Watershed Initiative will offer how-to workshops on land management topics. For example, in September 2019 we hosted a workshop on managing streambanks at the Cates Family Farm. To decrease erosion caused, in part, by grazing cattle accessing the stream, the Cates worked with the DNR to slope the streambanks, install cattle crossings, and arrange fencing to direct cattle to those crossings. The workshop described that process, presented cost-sharing and other resources for improving streambanks, and demonstrated how the brook trout population is monitored.
Taliesin Farm Tours:
In 2019, our partnership helped Taliesin Preservation design a new Driftless Farm Tour that highlights Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy related to farming. The tour visits the Midway Farm on the estate and the Cates Family Farm up the road. During the tour, we describe the Lowery Creek Watershed Initiative, which fully embodies Wright’s philosophy for integrating nature, aesthetics, and working lands.
Katie Abbott, Iowa County Land Conservation Dept.
Barb Barzen, Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Dick Cates, Cates Family Farm
Mike Degen, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Jen Filipiak, Driftless Area Land Conservancy
John Hess, Town of Wyoming
Ryan Hewson, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Daniel Marquardt, Hillside Pastures
Linda Marquardt, Hillside Pastures
Joe Stapleton, Stapleton Farm
Jean Unmuth, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin - Science Team
Selena Warsaw-Lane, Taliesin Preservation
Gary Zimmer, Otter Creek Organic Farm