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Wisconsin Lakeshore Restoration Project - Lessons Learned

Every project has transferable knowledge and management implications for us to think about as practitioners.  Here are some of the g
eneral lessons learned in the art and science of intelligent tinkering on lakeshores with this project:


            A landowner and his lakeshore restoration project - Found Lake.


  • Landowners are essential to any restoration strategy; without willing lakeshore property owners, opportunities for rehabilitating lakeshore habitat are minimal.
  • Within the Northern Highlands region, we found interest generally low among lake property owners.



 Picture 1 - an educational sign describing the Moon Beach Camp lakeshore restoration effort - Moon Lake; picture 2 -  Glenn Svetnicka, Director of Outdoor Ministry, an on-lake project champion.

  • Finding local, on-lake champions of lakeshore rehabilitation work like lake association officers or master gardeners can make for effective peer-to-peer learning and project buy-in.
  • Two lakes involved with this project had a little less success with securing landowners because no immediate local lake champion could be found to make the case for doing restoration work and to help recruit suitable lakeshore property owners to the project.



Landsacaper Brent Hanson (pictured above left) of Hanson's Garden Village in Rhinelander spent lots of time consulting with and steering projects with participating landowners; Dan Haskell, research scientist with the project (in above right picture to far left of the scene), provided hours of dedicated service to coaching landowners and partners through the project design, planning, installation, and monitoring processes.  Dan is seen here talikng to a walkng tour group at the Crystal Lake restoration site on the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest campground area.


  • Natural resource educators, contractors, planners, and other consultants to these landowners need to be hands-on with their assistance.
  • We must openly communicate with landowners to understand their vision for their lakeshore properties on access points, view corridors, plant selection, storage needs, landscaping preferences, and other facets of the project. For example, we need to meet landowners where their landscape values are, whether they champion a “messy look” closer to a wild lakeshore or a “tidy” aesthetic that might accentuate drifts of plants, delineated edgings, and lower growing native vegetation.
  • "Cues to care: the language of neighborly landscaping"  2011.  Wild Ones Journal-September to December: 1-2.


The North Lakeland Discovery Center birding club wanted to restore habitat along Statehouse Lake which had experienced a severe wind event--a blowdown took down all the canopy trees along the shore near the center; birding club members worked with staff and Vilas County to restore the site.  Shown above are members of the club assisting with the first lakeshore restoration there in 2003; members of the bird group helped with this project by doing bird counts pre- and post-treatments.

  • Incorporating ecological design and habitat restoration principles of water infiltration, retention, reuse, and flow control as well as recreating plant community structure into our lakeshore restoration strategies with landowners pays dividends.
  • This includes low impact development (LID) approaches and best practices that are targeted to reduce runoff of water and pollutants like rain gardens and barrels, permeable pavements, rock infiltration activities, infiltration stairs, diversions like water bars, brush bundles, gutters, and vegetated geogrids. 
  • It also includes habitat restoration best practices like native plantings, fish sticks and tree drops, and aquatic plantings.


Several ersosion control treatments occured on the above Found Lake site including the use of coir logs, enviro-lok bags, sediment logs, and native plantings

  • Finding erosion control solutions for landowners to challenges from ice heave and wave action are critical to success.
  • This fact often brings willing landowners to the table for doing shoreland rehabilitation so we need to make sure we address these concerns effectively. 
  • Innovative advances in erosion control materials that meet state standards and codes can be found by partnering with land and water conservation departments, landscapers, consultants, and others.



Comparison of 1940's development of a lakeshore lot to a 1990 development of a lakeshore lot; note the 5X increase in runoff (from 1,000 ft.3 to 5,000 ft.3), 6X increase in phosphorus (0.03 lbs. to 0.20 lbs), and a 4.5X increase in sediment (20 lbs. to 90 lbs.) to the lake.

  • Shoreland zoning and other regulatory instruments alone are not enough to protect lakeshore habitat at 52 homes per linear mile. 
  • Lakes with minimum frontage lake lots at 200 feet versus 100 feet (or less) withstand the stressors of human disturbance more effectively for lake health.


This project benefited from many exceptional partners who came together to support lakeshore restoration activities in their lake communities; pictured above is the Crystal Lake campground restoration on the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, championed by forest supervisor Steve Petersen who took advantage of the opportunity to model the way (a goal of the forest master plan) and educate park users with the site.

  • Holistic and inclusive lake community partnerships can support lakeshore restoration work of all kinds. Be open to possible project helpers like lake organizations, scouting groups, master gardeners, churches and other community organizations.


  Rod Croker of Northern Lakes Landscaping in Eagle river prepares the lakebed for a shoresox erosdion control treatment on a Found lake site in the project; Rod was another great partner with the project.

  • Lakeshore rehabilitation projects are good for local economies and small business owners.
  • Expenditures from these lake projects provide income to area contractors, nurseries, landscapers, erosion control specialists, and others employed in facets of the work.



Herbaceous plants like sedges, grasses, wildflowers, ferns, and rushes are pictured to the left and woody native trees and shrubs on the right just before planting on a Found Lake project site.

  • Select native plant species that are proven work horses, namely sedges, grasses, and rushes.
  • These soil-holding plants are important to the goal of restoring ecological functions to lakeshore areas and they can persist throughout the transition zone from upland areas to near-shore locations with wet feet.



   A steep sided lakeshore with dry aspects and sandy soils like this one from Found Lake can be demanding of plants.

  • Upland species can be a challenge to get established without proper maintenance.
  • The soil condition, aspect, and slopes should be considered when generating a plant list; regular watering following plant installation is essential.



Maintenance needs like regularly watering after plants are put in and during drought times is essential; pictured here is a watering system on one of the Found Lake project sites.


  • Maintenance is a vital part of the process (i.e., monitoring for ample watering regimes; invasive species control needs; browse protection systems like spray deterrents, temporary fencing, or motion-sensory sprinkler plans; proper dock storage; etc.).



Best practices like this tree drop on Lost Lake enhance nearshore habitat, withnessed by the reestablishment of this bulrush bed to the left of the tree following installation; aquatic plants like these create oxygen, provide cover and structure for wildlife, and lessen the energy of incoming wave action.

  • At present, voluntary restoration of lakeshore habitat will likely only have a modest influence on watershed health.
  • Best practices for lakeshore habitat restoration and conservation need to become more of the societal norm where every lakeshore property owner is doing their part toward lake-friendly living. 
  • Even mandatory mitigation requirements wrapped up in local shoreland rules may only marginally increase participation. 
  • When politically possible, reving shoreland rules or zoning that require lakeshore habitat conservation and restoration can perhaps provide the greatest benefit in the long term. 
  • Also, understanding more deeply and clearly the barriers landowners confront in ultimately accepting the practice of lakeshore habitat restoration and devising marketing strategies that utilize this information may also pay dividends in the future.


A fence system like the one pictured above at the Crystal Lake campground site protects the native planting for the first 3 to 5 years from browse by deer and rabbits; it also minimizes human foot traffic around the lakeshore edge, another cause of slumping banks and erosing shorelines on sandy, loose soils like those we find on many Northwoods lakes.

  • White-tailed deer can be much more abundant on developed lakes, especially when supplemental feeding by area property owners is occuring, like in our study area until 2016.
  • Typically in this lake region, no significant hunting pressure happens around developed lakes; hunters spend more time on their bigger hunting parcels, local county lands, or nearby state and national forests. 
  • Because supplemental feeding sites attract deer into tight densities, the natural vegetation browse is often depleted in areas near to it.
  • Temporary fencing usage for the first three to five years helps the native plantings get established and become more tolerant and resilient to browse.


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