Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Volunteers continue to clear creek

by Rob Ireland

October 06, 2011

FONTANA — Last week, if someone stood on the west side of South Main Street, right next the village's elementary school, they might hear the sound of water whispering underneath the asphalt beneath them.

Today, after volunteers cleared overgrowth, the creek where that water runs is entirely visible from the road. The improvement is more than cosmetic surgery for the street and school. It also is an important procedure for the health of Van Slyke Creek.

Last Saturday, volunteers with Trout Unlimited and other members of the community spent a day cleaning Van Slyke Creek, which is a natural Class 1 Trout Stream. Volunteers weren't the only ones working, the Department of Natural Resources and the village's Public Works Department also were part of the effort.

When the volunteers cleared the thick, green debris from the creek, it removed a major obstacle for the water, which will help it run faster and cooler. A fast, cool stream is important for the health of the brown trout which make Fontana their home.

The brush along this portion of the stream, which was filled with invasive species and incredibly dense, Fontana's Wes Millner said.

However, now that the brush is cleared, the DNR plans on treating the tree stumps, which should prevent the unwanted greenery from returning.

Van Slyke Creek is a Class 1 trout stream, which is unusual for Southeastern Wisconsin. The stream is an important part of a brown trout's habitat and is needed for the fish to spawn, hide and rest.

Millner and his wife, Jill Wegner, have organized clean up days for the past several years. The couple, who are both avid fly fishermen, hope that their efforts improve the health of the creek and the trout live in it.

The creek begins near the Fontana Fen, runs past Fontana Elementary School, dips underneath the road and crosses South Main Street to enter the Hildebrand Conservancy, travels through the former miniature golf course and then reaches the Abbey Resort.

At the Abbey Resort, the creek meets up with the Potawatomi Creek and eventually enters Geneva Lake.

What was done?

Millner said there were three work stations that volunteers, about 40 of them showed up to the clean up day, to improve the lake.

This year the volunteers filled in sink holes, which needed about 5 yards of sand, that were near the elementary school. Volunteer Jim Bailey, of Des Plaines, Ill., said the sink holes were a safety hazard to the school children.

In addition to being a safety hazard, Millner said the sinkholes hurt the flow of the stream.

"Where the sink holes are, they were cutting through the bank and diverting the stream and we want to get rid of that so we could have better flow," Millner said.

Custom cut half logs also were placed along some of the banks of the creek.

Millner said the logs look natural in the water and to a casual observer it wouldn't look like they were placed in the water at all.

"When you walk by and look at these you wouldn't notice that they were installed," he said.

The logs provide a place for the trout to hide and rest and provides them with protection from its worst enemy, the Great Blue Heron.

After the cleanup day, the volunteers gathered at Millner and Wegner residence to enjoy brats and some baked beans and talk about what they will do next to improve the creek.

"The DNR guys tells that you do some work and then you let the stream tell you what to do next," Millner said. "There will be another work day."

Fishing in the stream is certainly possible at this point Millner said, but that isn't the focus on cleaning up the creek.

"The focus isn't so much on the fishing, but to preserve and enhance this cold water resource," Millner said. "It feeds into the lake and is a nice feature in our community."