Most passersby wouldn’t bother to take a second look at the view to the south from Highway 33 between Riesch Road and Highway 144 in the Town of West Bend. Stacking up a deep base of gravel to create level roads instead of expensive bridge building was common practice in the area during the mid-19th century. This caused the area behind the road to become a sunken bowl of acreage that is nearly impossible to discern from the main roadways.
At present, a thin commercial strip sits atop a gravel base along the highway. Behind that, rest fields that have been cultivated in alfalfa and corn over the years. Just behind the tree line south of the fields rest the headwater springs of the Cedar Lakes watershed. Indian Springs, the area’s unofficial name transferred through generations of locals, bubbles crystal clear water from countless springs into Gilbert Lake. That water then travels to Big Cedar, Little Cedar, Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River, before finally reaching Lake Michigan.
Jim Fritsche knew well what lie hidden south of Highway 33. He purchased land seen from that view not once, but twice. Then, with the help of this Foundation, he protected that land – not once, but twice. In 1998, 25.1 acres were preserved when Jim Fritsche made the land available to the Conservation Foundation. Before his death in 2001, Jim Fritsche instructed his youngest daughter, Meg Jansky, to carry out his intention to preserve an additional 40 acres. The properties formerly referred to as “Fritsche I” and “Fritsche II,” later became The Fritsche Nature Preserve.
Tod Maclay, president of the Property Owners Association, introduced Jim Fritsche to his father, Geoff Maclay, and to William Genthe, former chairman of the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District. These introductions created the new relationships from which planning for the Fritsche Nature Preserve became possible. Meg Jansky recalled her instructions: “My father explained that he spoke with Geoff Maclay often. They talked about the pond and planting trees. He asked me to promise that I would continue working with the Foundation until the land was preserved.”
Jim Fritsche’s interest in improving the watershed stemmed from his love of the outdoors. While serving for over a decade on the Property Owners Association, he and Tod Maclay developed an environmentally friendly, non-phosphorous fertilizer and made it available to those living near the lakes. “Their friendship, and my father’s satisfaction with what he saw happen so successfully with the first acres sold to the Foundation, convinced him to take steps to preserve the rest of his property,” Meg explained.
Protection of the Fritsche II property became a cooperative effort. Actual purchase of the property was accomplished by the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District with funds received from the Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Foundation. The Washington County Conservation Department then moved forward with the design and installation of a storm water retention pond that had been discussed as early as 1996.
Construction of the duck-shaped pond by Washington County was completed in October of 2002 with support from the Milwaukee River Priority Watershed Program. “It looks like a duck because we try to take advantage of the natural depressions in the land so that the least amount of grading is required. The pond looks like a duck, because the land looked like a duck,” explained County Conservationist Troy Kuphal.
Paul Sebo, senior conservation technician for Washington County, designed the pond. Its maximum depth of five feet and 1.8-acre surface area is all that is required to achieve 60 – 80% nutrient reduction in the water that eventually reaches Gilbert Lake. Mr. Sebo echoed the importance of doing the least amount of digging possible. Pond size is based upon the amount of watershed area in need of storm water management. This pond will receive run-off from 155 acres of watershed, which includes a large portion of Highways 33 and 144. “The pond will become increasingly important over time, as areas along those highways are slated to be future commercial land,” Sebo said.
Ironically, the duck shape actually serves a significant functional purpose, according to Sebo. “Water from the fore bay area will enter the pond at the ‘head’ of the duck. It then passes over the ‘neck,’ which is just three feet deep, then to the five foot depth of the ‘body.’ Clear water leaves the pond and returns to the watershed from the middle of the five foot depth via two 24-foot plastic pipes. This keeps algae from the top of the water and sediment from the bottom in the pond. This also means the ‘head’ of the duck will need to be cleaned out more often. Deposits not suitable for topsoil, will be used elsewhere for fill,” he explained.
Mr. Sebo predicted that the “neck” of the pond will eventually fill with cattails, giving the appearance of two ponds in the future. Winter wheat planted along the banks of the pond will come up in spring to prevent erosion. Plans to replace the winter wheat with native grasses and wildflowers are being made by the Conservancy Lands Restoration Committee of the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District. Areas just beyond the banks have been selected as an Adopt-A-Tree site.
Finally, after new plantings take hold, and as the pond works to keep our lakes and streams cleaner, new walking trails will attract gentle visitors to view and appreciate the delicate and restored habitat of the Fritsche Nature Preserve.
Indian Springs, the area’s unofficial name transferred through generations of locals, bubbles clear water from countless springs into Gilbert Lake. That water then travels into Big Cedar and Little Cedar Lakes, Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River before finally reaching Lake Michigan.