Exploring Lake Wingra in winter

On January 21, Gordon Heingartner and Jeff Durbin invited me to join them on a ramble around Lake Wingra.  They write a blog called Unseen Madison--apparently they felt the winter lake was sufficiently "unseen" to qualify.  The plan was to walk the entire circumference on the ice, and see what we could see.

We met at the new dam where Lake Wingra flows into Murphy Creek.  Just finished last fall, the dam has a pleasant design.  Some had hoped it would be designed to keep carp from sending reinforcements up the creek to Lake Wingra, where the carp have been doing battle with the Green tribe.  But carp control wan't included in the design.  Perhaps it can be retrofitted.

Dam between Wingra Creek and Lake Wingra. Photo by J. Durbin

We discussed how the final solution to the carp problem could be publishing a good recipe.  Maybe Martha Stewart could be enlisted.  After all, the carp were introduced by European settlers because carp were considered a delicacy.  But somewhere along the way, they lost the recipe.  Carp-a-thon, anyone?  I've always heard that people don't eat carp nowadays because of the many bones.  If you know how to take out the bones--and few people do--you're well on your way to a fine feed.

We set out counter clockwise, and soon came to the shoreline of Edgewood College, where a pathway, plus many nice boardwalks on the marsh, have been established.  Here we met Edgewood Professor Jim Lorman, who showed us the springs on college property.

Winter is a good time for observing springs, because the water comes out at 55 degrees F.  That warmth, plus water turbulence, keeps ice from forming--making the springs visible.

The largest spring in the Edgewood area is called Millennium Spring by Jim Lorman, because it was first noticed about the year 2000.   No one knows why it began then, so we tossed around some ideas.  A millennium software glitch?  The best idea seemed to be that construction of a building nearby had caused a rearrangement in the groundwater flow.

Millennium Spring, with Prof. Jim Lorman, right.

Many people think it's unsafe to walk on the lake in winter, probably because they see these patches of open water.   I'd say, just keep your eyes open.  There aren't any hidden springs you can't see.  You wouldn't walk in front of a speeding garbage truck--likewise, I don't recommend closing your eyes and walking into a spring.  It's pretty shallow where the springs occur, so you'd probably survive anyway.

The ice was plenty thick.  We found one hole where an ice fisher gave up before he had bored all the way through.  The hole was a foot or more deep--but the ice was thicker than that.

We found some beaver tracks in and around the board walks, plus a few trees they had been gnawing on.  Beaver are active during the winter.  Sometimes you can see their tracks on the ice, where they alternately run and slide on their bellies.  But most of the time, they swim under the ice, where they are safe from coyotes.

A sobering thought--here on Lake Wingra, the primeval struggle between predator and prey.   And just a quarter mile away at Michael's Frozen Custard, every day you can observe the primeval struggle between people and calories.

Edgewood Big Hole Spring was recently rediscovered and cleaned out.It was formerly a trout pond for Governor Cadwallader Washburn.

Along the shore, we saw many large and magnificent willow trees. They have gnarly burls where many small branches sprout from the trunk.

Dead willow with burl, "sandblasted" by snow.

Just E of Wingra park, another spring on private property.

Jeff investigates a stormwater outlet.  Controlling pollution and sediment from these outlets is a priority for Madisonians.

West of Wingra Park, we noticed a fine stand of tamarack trees.  In fall, they turn "smoky gold,"  Now, a multitude of seeds gave them a color of deep rust.

Nearing the west end of the lake, we found the narrow creek where spring water from Duck Pond flows into the lake.

Past Duck Creek, we headed west across a broad marshland towards the Nakoma golf course.  It was surprising to find such a wilderness in the midst of a city.  There were coyote tracks everywhere.  The snow here was quite deep, so walking was difficult.

This trampled area in the marsh grass was most likely a place where a coyote spent the night.

At the NE corner of the lake, we found open water at the mouth of a short creek that leads to Big Spring.

Our intrepid explorers investigate a mysterious stain.

On the south shore, Jeff and Gordon found a mysterious stain on the ice, and subjected it to the "nose test."  Beer?  Coffee?  A call of nature?  Finally, Gordon detected a strong whiff of coffee.  Case solved.

We ended back at the dam, after trekking over 3.5 miles, in 5 hours.  I was exhausted.
*    *    *

If you decide to follow our intrepid lead, I recommend:

  • Go in pairs, for safety--mostly so you can discourage your partner from testing all the coffee stains.
  • Dress very warmly, especially on the feet. Take a ski pole to test the ice and keep your balance.
  • Bring a sandwich and some hot cocoa.
  • In March, when the thaw begins, the first few feet along the shore melt first. So be careful near the shore (but it's very shallow there).
  • It's best to wait several days after a heavy snowfall. That's because the snow weighs down the ice, causing water to well up over the ice, making slush. After several days, the slush freezes.
See David's slide show here. Use the full screen mode (arrows on left) and move your cursor off-screen.
See Jeff Durbin's slide show here.

Goodbye carp

"I do have a serious recipe for carp. I can mine. I filet the carp, cut the filets into two inch chunks, bone and all ,and put into a pint canning jar with a tablespoon of cooking oil and a tablespoon of salt. Put the top on the jar and pressure cook for 90 minutes at 110 pounds. Take out and cool and let the jars seal. The bones will be soft just like in canned salmon. I make fish patties with the meat, chopped onion and bell pepper and crushed saltines. When pan fried they are almost as good as salmon croquettes. "  Source.

Plenty more recipes here.  Find out about bowhunting for carp here.

1 comment:

  1. It blows me away that all you do is look at contractors when by far and away the biggest polluter of our streams are farmers, not the big one but the small ones. They are the sacred cow and nobody cares.


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