On the Trails: Greene Prairie Boardwalk Removal

A plank boardwalk through a prairie

Greene Prairie boardwalk (Photo: Susan Day)

Greene Prairie is an amazing 47-acre restoration – named after botanist Henry Greene who independently hand-planted the area – located in the southern part of the Arboretum’s Grady Tract. He began the prairie restoration in 1942 and continued until the early 1960s.

The prairie is one of the best examples of a restored short-stature prairie. It is a favorite spot of staff, researchers, and community members due to its plant diversity and excellent planting execution. Walking on the narrow trails and boardwalks through the prairie is like stepping back in time.

Once the snow melted this spring, it became evident that the old, dilapidated boardwalk had seen its last season. Many decking boards had detached from the mud sills over the winter, creating tripping hazards. The ranger unit tried to secure the boards with new screws, but the rotting wood quickly worked itself loose. The trails were no longer safe for visitor use, and the trails were closed to the public in the spring.

Greene Prairie is an ecologically sensitive area to work in. Through his meticulous work, Henry Greene created a home for several rare plants, animals, and insects. We have seen the eastern prairie fringed orchid, prairie parsley, rusty-patched bumble bee, Silphium borer moth, and small white lady slippers.

Due to the presence of endangered and threatened species, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires an Endangered Resources Review before Arboretum staff can work in the area. The Endangered Resources Review communicates laws, best practices, and potential remediation for a project.

A narrow boardwalk stretches into the distance lined by wetland grasses, shrubs, and trees.
Boardwalk in Gardner Marsh

Arboretum staff are currently discussing three options for the area. The first option is to rebuild another narrow boardwalk that uses mud sills – the same type used in the Gardner Marsh area. This kind of boardwalk would minimize trail closures due to flooding, but it would be the most expensive option.

The second option is to “armor” the trail using large rocks, like a stone path. This plan would require wetland permits from the WDNR and Army Corp of Engineers because of the increased disturbance caused by building the trail. Rock armoring the trail would last longer than a boardwalk, and the rock material used for this project could be repurposed from a decommissioned garden rock wall.

The last option is to close the area to the public permanently. This option could be the best way to protect the rare plants but limits how people can enjoy the prairie.

Overall, the goal for Greene Prairie is to improve safety for visitors and protect the prairie’s flora and fauna, while providing access for people to enjoy the beauty and diversity of this short-stature prairie. The Arboretum will continue to update the public about any plans for Greene Prairie.

—Stephanie Petersen, ranger