The Gardner Marsh boardwalk, near the Mills Street entrance, has been deteriorating over the past few years. In 2018 and 2019 the boardwalk was closed temporarily after flooding caused parts of it to break apart and float away. We put it back together each time but also began looking into replacing it.
The Arboretum worked with Rhonda James, a landscape architect with UW–Madison Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture, to figure out options for a more durable boardwalk. The old one was built two boards wide, running parallel to the trails. With few breaks on the walking surface, this outdated design became slippery when wet. The hazard was amplified because the boardwalk was low to the ground and the area flooded frequently.
We decided to use the same design as the recently replaced boardwalk in the Ho Nee Um Pond area. The more current design lays decking perpendicular to the trail with a higher ground clearance. This construction provides more traction, and the increased height reduces closures due to flooding.
The new plan received great feedback when reviewed by the Arboretum trails committee, and funding was provided through a memorial donation made by the friends and family of Beth Potter and Robin Carre. Thanks to the donation we will be able to complete over 1,000 feet of boardwalk in 2021 and 2022.
The project was delayed in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, reduced staffing, and lumber shortages. By the summer of 2021, the ranger unit was back on site working at full capacity and lumber prices and stock were returning to normal. The ranger staff began work on the project in July, marking out and clearing a new route boardwalk to avoid some low flood-prone areas. Construction began in early September and is ongoing. As of November around 500 feet of new boardwalk has been replaced.
Gardner Marsh is a beloved site for many visitors and families in the surrounding neighborhoods. It is a great birding spot, offers the closest trails to campus, and provides a quiet place to reflect that is only steps from Mills Street and Wingra Drive. We’ve had great feedback as we’ve worked on the rebuild, with many visitors commenting on how excited they are about the project. We hope that this new boardwalk will allow people to enjoy the area for many more years.
—Stephanie Petersen, ranger