Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Parks

Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Restoration

Property: Pheasant Branch Conservancy
Project Status: Active or in Progress
Schedule: 2021- 2024, Prairie plantings and hiking trail establishment

Dane County purchased the 159-acre property (former Acker Farm) in 2019 as an addition to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy. The county is partnering with community organizations on the planning and implementation of restoration projects for the site. Restoration will increase flood capacity, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.  Sediment and phosphorus loading will be significantly reduced within the Pheasant Branch Watershed, positively impacting Lake Mendota. The prairie restoration will use a platinum seed mix consisting of at least 75 different plant species which will provide a diverse habitat for wildlife.

The property concept plan (PDF) and report (PDF) summarize the restoration projects and provide an action plan for implementation.  The key aspects of the restoration project include:

  • Demolish all structures and use the concrete from the farmstead for a future access site (completed in 2020).
  • Implement a major wetland restoration and stormwater management project (completed in 2020).  This entailed the construction of a sediment basin and an upper and lower berm with water control structures that will create wetland pools to increase flood capacity and reduce sediment and phosphorus loading to Pheasant Branch Creek.  The wetland pools will also provide excellent wetland habitat for birds, waterfowl and other wildlife. Note: the water control structures will remain open until the site is fully restored to native vegetation, so the wetland pools won’t be fully functioning until then.
  • Convert all of the cropland to native prairie over a 4-year period (in progress).
  • Establish perimeter hiking trails that would also serve as firebreaks and connect to the existing trail system at Pheasant Branch Conservancy (in progress).

Staff are also conducting two long-term monitoring projects to assess the effects of prairie restoration on the Acker parcel. First, whenever there is runoff from rainfall or snowmelt, water samples from the parcel are collected and analyzed for phosphorus and other water quality variables. Over time, these samples will be used to estimate the water quality benefits of the restoration. Second, soil samples are collected annually to track changes in soil phosphorus and organic matter. Both of these efforts will continue for the foreseeable future to monitor for long-term changes that may be slow to occur.