University Bay Sand Bar

If you examine a color aerial photo of this location, you’ll be able to see a long curving underwater sandbar paralleling the shore of University Bay that crosses this part of the bay, visible not just from the air but from boats in search of fishing opportunities here.

Wind, currents, and wave action have long had a tendency to pile up sediments at this end of University Bay. In fact, the process has been going on for thousands of years. When you walk, run, or bike along the Lakeshore Path at this end of the bay, you are actually doing so atop a long-ago predecessor of the sand bar that is now building up offshore. When the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association first built the “Bay Road” through the wetlands here, they did so along a height of land that had its origins in just this kind of sand bar.

The accumulation of sediments at this end of the bay is now aided and abetted by the huge influx of sand and gravel that enters via storm water surges from Willow Creek, which drains much of the near west side of Madison.

Because so much of that land has now been built up and covered with hard surfaces, outflows have accelerated dramatically in recent decades, with corresponding impacts on the bay that we are only beginning to understand. Managing this watershed for the long-term health of the Preserve – to say nothing of the community of Madison – remains one of the enduring environmental challenges of being good stewards of this place.