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The Picnic Point Marsh, labeled on some older maps as the Indian Pond or the Beaver Pond, is filling with silver maples, elms, and box elders. It is so infested with invasive reed canary grass—a plant introduced by agricultural consultants to American farmers for erosion control in the mid twentieth century—that it can hardly be called a “pond” anymore.
But it still is an important habitat, one of the few watery places in the Preserve that are quiet, remote from most human activity, and filled with hidden nesting spots in the thickets. Sora rails, wood ducks, and other waterfowl can be seen and heard here in the spring, especially in years when open water is created.
Until the storms of 2000, it was not known how long it had been since Picnic Point Marsh had even touched by lake water. For recorded history, it had been an inland pond without direct contact with contaminants from Lake Mendota water. Research by Jill Baum determined that the source of water for this marsh is separate from Lake Mendota hydrology.
The marsh has declined in recent years due to a number of factors. Changes in rain patterns; run-off patterns from the uplands, the increase of trees on land that was once kept much more open by fire and grazing animals; and the incursions of invasive plants have all changed the ecological dynamics of this place.
But it remains a beautiful and secluded spot that many visitors to the Preserve never notice, even though they often pass within a few dozen feet of its secret habitat.
The classic study of the marsh is Jill M. Baum, “Determining Wetland Management Alternatives: The Natural History of Picnic Point Marsh,” M.A. Thesis. Land Resources, Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001. The photo of the marsh in 1918 (at right) is taken from that thesis.
Text: Cathie Bruner, 11/17/06, with edits by Bill Cronon.