The Ho-Nee-Um Pond boardwalk, in the Wingra Oak Savanna area just off Monroe Street, has been deteriorating over the past few years. But it hit its breaking point last summer due to heavy rains, flooding, and new beaver activity in the area. It became unsafe, with unstable footings and many loose decking boards. While plans were made for a rebuild, the boardwalk was temporarily closed to prevent injuries or damage to the surrounding sensitive ecosystem.
The Arboretum worked with Rhonda James, a landscape architect with UW–Madison Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture, to design a new safer and more durable boardwalk. The old boardwalk, which is about 20 years old, was built three boards wide, running parallel to the trails. With few breaks on the walking surface, this outdated boardwalk design became slippery when wet. The hazard was amplified because the boardwalk was low to the ground and the area would flood frequently.
The new design, more common for boardwalks today, uses decking laid perpendicular to the trail with a higher ground clearance. The perpendicular decking provides more traction and the increased height will reduce closures due to flooding.
The new design received great feedback when reviewed by the Arboretum trails committee, and funding was budgeted for a portion of the rebuild. We also received a Norma & Stanley DeBoer Quiet Trails Fund Grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. This grant funds projects located on quiet trails that benefit users such as hikers, skiers, and paddlers. Thanks to the grant we will be able to complete additional sections of the boardwalk this year.
After we secured a wetland build permit from the DNR last May, we kicked off the project with a surge of people power from the visiting AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 3 team that served for eight weeks at the Arboretum and other local sites. Over three days, more than 200 feet of boardwalk was removed from this tricky site. The crew formed a bucket brigade in ankle deep mud to move the boards to solid ground. The boards were then carried out by hand across the spring or wheeled out by wheelbarrow down the trail and up to the bike path. It was hard work but we made the most of the muddy job.
The site conditions make for a challenging project and a deliberate process. Because of sensitive vegetation and ecology, and threatened species in the area, staying within the existing boardwalk footprint is crucial. This mean we don’t always have the sweet spot of conditions needed for building days. It is well worth taking the time to work with care and protect this special place that is loved by visitors and the surrounding community.
—Stephanie Petersen, ranger