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Trail in tiny Belle Plaine benefits from volunteers, eagles and grant support

Much attention has been paid to the millions of dollars being spent on new trail loops and connections in the Fox Cities, but the outlying areas also have their passion for a walk in the woods. What they have in common is the need for interested users to push the issue.

In the Shawano County community of Belle Plaine, they have a trail treasure on Gibson Island. Really, it’s more of a pudgy peninsula because the roundish “island” is connected to land at one end. It is a great spot for a quick woodland getaway.

The 25-acre Gibson Island is a former Boy Scout camp in the Cloverleaf Lakes district. The trail runs around its perimeter.

The problem was that invasive plant species – Japanese knapweed, honeysuckle, black locust and buckthorn – also nearly ringed the island. Residents were determined to expel the unwanted invaders and replace them with native plants. For help with that, they turned to the Community Foundation.

Grants totaling $4,220 awarded in 2018 by the Community Foundation from its Environmental Stewardship Fund and the affiliated Clintonville Area Foundation helped the volunteers purchase tools and plants. They added the labor.

Joy Krubsack, one of the leaders of the assault on the invasives, says their efforts have paid off. The amount of invasive plants has been reduced and natives have filled the space, but not necessarily the natives they expected. The volunteers bought and planted perennial flowers and shrubs that belong in central Wisconsin but, in some places, long-dormant seeds for native grasses and ferns have taken over instead.

Another very welcome pair of natives – American bald eagles – continue to nest on the island. Unfortunately, two eaglets spotted in the nest earlier this year did not survive.

Dave Horst

The improved plant life offers a positive counterweight to that disappointment.

“We’re glad we did it,” Krubsack said of the invasive replacement. And they’re thankful for the grant support that enabled them to do it.

The Environmental Stewardship Fund was established in 2003 to support local projects that help people preserve, enjoy or understand nature better, by furthering the preservation or protection of nature, enhancing the enjoyment of nature and improving public knowledge and awareness of the natural world.

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