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Monarch on Butterfly Weed


December 8, 2021  |  Topics: Places

By Ney Tait Fraser

The graceful ash tree is known as the Venus of the Woods. Ash trees are not renowned for longevity, but the majestic specimen on the west side of the hummingbird area in Doctors Park had been around since 1908. After the tree was cut down, Neil Gollhardt counted 112 rings. He noted that the ash tree witnessed the flu pandemic of 1918, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, JFK, RFK & Dr. King assassinations, a man on the moon …, even the Cubs winning the world series!

Cardinal Flower.
Cardinal Flower.

The flowers of ash trees do not produce nectar; ash trees are wind pollinated. Many species of bee feast on the pollen. Animals, especially woodpeckers, relish ash seeds. The branches of ash trees provide shade and nesting sites for countless animals. The death of millions of ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer beetle has been a catastrophe for all the creatures that depended on the trees for food and shelter.

Lavender hyssop.

Early in the year, freezing temperatures with snow drifting through sunlight did not deter work in the park. Bill Matthaeus and I removed a massive multiflora rose from the north end of the hummingbird area. When the temperature was only ten degrees Fahrenheit, sledge hammers were used to conk in protruding metal stakes on the south trail. Later a colossal invasive honeysuckle bush growing near the service road was cut down.

Rusty patched bumblebee.
Rusty-patched bumble bee. Photo by Emilie Burmeister.

In March, a FEMA grant enabled Davey Tree Service to gather up driftwood and large trees from the beach, depositing them north of the parking lot. A dead ash tree was cut down near the beach house. Other debris was removed during the annual beach cleanup on May 15th, which is always a fun event with children lending a hand.

Marsh marigolds ready for planting. Photo by Bruce Fuller.

On Friday April 30th, Bruce Fuller photographed Scott Prill, Bill, Neil, and me planting twenty marsh marigolds in the north ravine of Doctors Park. Each plant received half a bag of composted manure and a gallon of water from my rain barrels. The plants were marked by red flags on bamboo stakes. Later, marsh marigold seeds were added to the ravine by Emilie Burmeister, who works for Milwaukee County Parks. The golden flowers of marsh marigolds provide nectar and pollen that sustain more than three dozen species of early sweat bees, flower flies, and bee flies from April through June.

The stream bed in the north ravine, where marsh marigolds were planted. Photo by Bruce Fuller.

Patty Ryan spent many hours working in Doctors Park. Pat Hidson helped me tidy up the migrating bird area in April. It is where owls hang out singing the same soft, trilling call and response songs that they have sung for millions of years.

Cutleaf Sunflowers – Rudbeckia laciniata – making an appearance after Pat Hidson and Ney had cut down dead stalks and pulled out invasives.The area used to be infested with burdock, invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn. Milwaukee County Parks signage explains the importance of native plants to migrating birds.

On May 21st, an excellent team from Cream City Conservation Corps joined Bill and me at the west side of the parking lot. Using Pullerbear tools and Bill’s Silky Kantanaboy and Bigboy saws, the area was cleared of invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn. Later, native meadow rose and northern bush honeysuckle plants were donated by Louise and David Petering. Neil, Bill, Scott, and I dug nine holes on November 5 and took out large invasive honeysuckle stumps. Rosa blanda and Diervilla lonicera were planted by the Peterings and me. Mel Blanke was kind enough to water them.

Two pollinators pollinating, a monarch butterfly and a bee.

The WPA-era stairway leading down to the beach had fallen into disrepair. A third of the steps were cracked or separated and railings had rotted. Raising funds to match a twenty thousand dollar grant from Milwaukee County Parks took the Friends of Doctors Park over a year. J.S. Construction was hired by Larry Goodman to renovate the stairway, supervised by Blake Prusak of the Parks Department. Work began in June of 2021 and ended in late July. The area leading to the top step was leveled. Existing asphalt was replaced by a concrete slab. Two additional steps were added to the top of the stairway. Some steps had to be leveled by using mud jacking to force concrete under them. Other stone steps with damaged surfaces were flipped over. Gaps in cracked steps were narrowed and filled with concrete. New white cedar rails were installed.

Refurbished stairway with new white cedar rails.
Refurbished stairway with new white cedar rails.

The grand opening of the refurbished stairway was on Sunday June 27th to coincide with the last day of the beer garden. It was a beautiful summer evening. Crowds of people were enjoying themselves. Children were playing. Mo Daly and Hannah Goodman worked on designing a plaque of appreciation to the donors that will be installed on a large stone brought up from the beach area by Sam Kuerschner.

A new concrete slab leading to the stairs, adorned with some paw prints made by a dog when the cement was wet!

Wisconsin experienced the worst drought on record in 2021. Gray dogwood and ninebark shrubs planted in 2020 budded out, but almost died of thirst. They had to be watered, mulched and fenced. The marsh marigolds also needed water. Every few days, I filled twenty-gallon jugs with water from my rain barrels and let my cart cruise downhill to the ravine by itself.

The author watering plants. Photo by Barb Paullini.

Obedient plants, red cardinal flowers and boneset planted in the spring had to be watered. Each obedient plant flower was plugged by an ecstatic bee. Tiny house wren chicks popped out of a nest under a mail box to watch me watering. The chicks were quite tame and fed each other. This summer, Emilie Burmeister of the Parks Department spotted and photographed an endangered rusty-patched bumble bee nectaring on giant hyssop flowers in the hummingbird area where exquisite hummingbirds also nectared on red cardinal flowers. Their wings made a faint buzzing sound.

Giant hyssop.

Weedouts have transformed Doctors Park. Bruce Fuller and his dog Bindi gave directions to volunteers from a command and control table laden with snacks and water. This October, a troop of scouts based in Whitefish Bay arrived like the cavalry. They

Spring weedout. Photo by Jamie Bloomquist.

brought their own Pullerbear tools. My guess is that Tom Benson helped to mobilize the troop. The weather was glorious. I had borrowed three Pullerbears from friends in addition to the two in the shed. Massive amounts of buckthorn were taken out from the south end of Doctors Park without using herbicide. Ken Solis works hard to supply gear for all the weedouts.

Blue lobelia.

Restoration by a group of people is a new type of ecological art serving a useful purpose. There are more and more dead objects in the world, but fewer and fewer trees and pollinators.

Ney Tait Fraser is a volunteer with Friends of Doctors Park. All images are hers, except as noted.