Christmas in the swamp

I hate to call this a tradition but for some reason I often end up spending Christmas Day tromping around in a woods or swamp. Last year we were camping down in Arkansas and spent Christmas hiking in a swampy Arkansas State Park. This year my dad and I spent the afternoon of Christmas Day tromping around in a bit of swamp on the old family farm.

Our goal was to try to figure out why the swamp was not draining the way we thought it would. Our plan was to use a GPS to measure the elevation at various points in the swamp and see if we could follow the path that the water should be taking. After a couple of hours of pushing through brush and trudging through water and mud we concluded that we couldn’t conclude anything. The land is very flat and the GPS device was nowhere near accurate enough to measure elevation. About all we learned is that the drainage ditches are not completely blocked and that washing the swamp mud off my truck is a lot of work.


The swamp collects water from adjoining fields and from a nearby road via a drainage ditch put in by the township in the 1930s. The swamp drains through another ditch that eventually leads into a nearby creek. My brother found a Federal flood plain map that indicates that the swamp is the source of “Cedarburg Creek”, and that it lies completely within the hundred year floodplain as shown by the blue hatching. Whether the floodplain map is accurate and whether the swamp will flood more often or less often under the current climate is unknown.

Up until the mid-1970s the swamp was used as pasture for dairy cows. For much of that time the swamp was filled with american elm trees. Dutch elm disease took care of the elms in the 1960s. After the cows were given up the swamp was left to nature and has since become overgrown with buckthorn and ash trees. Of course in recent years the ash trees have succumbed to the ash borer, leaving the swamp a mixture of Buckthorn, and dead ash trees, and miscellaneous trash trees.

It’d be nice to come up with some way of clearing the buckthorn, then decide whether or not the swamp should be actively managed to encourage certain types of wildlife and floura or just left to nature. I think there’s too much buckthorn to clear by hand. Perhaps flood or fire would work?

Don’t know.