Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

A non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway is a unique and varied landscape in the midwestern United States. This area, consisting of the Fox and Lower Wisconsin Rivers, encompass an assortment of history, inhabitants, and folklore that are as diverse as its topography. Here, 12,000 years of American Indian cultures converged on the banks of these rivers. In 1673, this area became a critical waterway in the New World, as Marquette and Joliet traveled these rivers to discover the mighty Mississippi and a link through the North American continent. For 150 years these waters remained the arch of France’s power in the New World, until the 19th century brought waves of European settlers, seeking prosperity, freedom, and family along these river valleys.

Within the boundaries of the Parkway, visitors can experience an extensive array of natural and cultural resources. These include well-preserved cultural landscapes, buildings, landforms, and archeological sites that represent the rich history of this region. These sites convey a bountiful, but also largely unrecognized, past. Many remain unaware of this area’s contributions to United States geologic and social history as an ice-sculpted landscape, a seat of New France, or as a world-leader in water transportation and power.

A National Heritage Area (NHA) designation would provide the opportunity to protect and enhance the abundant resources and unique history of this area so that visitors may learn about the Parkway’s important role within the chronicles of American history. This study examines the way in which the stories and sites of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway may be preserved, interpreted, and exalted.

Purpose of Study

The original Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway concept was conceived over a decade ago to acknowledge and promote an appreciation for this route of exploration, and its contribution to our state and national heritage. In 1989, the first efforts along the corridor evolved from the vision of persons such as Assembly Speaker David Prosser, who is today a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, and numerous civic leaders and organizations. Most notable among them were Bill Kellet, Val Wiley and the Fox Cities Convention and Visitor Bureau, and John Forster and the Friends of the Fox non-profit organization. They brought together a large group of interested residents and worked to refine the concept, the vision, and the action steps necessary to create a successful Parkway. They then brought it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. This is when the Parkway first received its name and plans were drafted for a unified system of interpretation. The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway was to be a new and unique counterpart to the Wisconsin state park system, exemplifying and promoting the cultural, historical, recreational, and natural resources of the rivers. This non-contiguous, lineal Parkway would consist of these resource sites, with core areas being the seventeen locks and three harbors of refuge located on the Fox River. All were to be connected by a network of trails.

In 1997, East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (ECWRPC) saw the potential of this project and drafted the original concept plan published. The organizations, residents, and ECWRPC remained a mainstay of the effort, and worked closely with area communities. Leaders believed that the first step in preserving this nationally significant waterway was to preserve its navigability. At that time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owned and operated seventeen lock sites along the Fox River and proposed to shut them down permanently due to decreased commercial usage. The coalition working on this project worked tirelessly with our state and federal congressional delegations to prepare the necessary agreements and secure the transfer of the federal lock properties to the State of Wisconsin, thereby saving them from being rendered forever inoperable.

In September 2004, the state took ownership of the 17 Lower Fox lock sites, as well as the 350 acres of land including almost 10 miles of water frontage associated with the locks, canals, and dams. In the year that followed, ECWRPC facilitated the creation of the Fox River Navigation System Authority (FRNSA), as prescribed in the Wisconsin legislation to refurbish and manage the lock system. With the transfer from federal to state hands, the governor received a check for $11.83 million dollars on behalf of the FRNSA. That money is now invested and managed by three Community Foundations in our region. In 2006, the FRNSA began work on the lock restoration and projects a completion date of 2011. A decade after the original plan was published, the vision of the Heritage Parkway remains as important and inspiring as ever. Now that navigation is being restored to the waterway, it is time to turn attention to the rest of the Parkway plan.

Friends of the Fox and the ECWRPC decided, therefore, to revisit the Parkway concept with the purpose of seeking a NHA designation from the National Park Service (NPS). An executive committee was formed to examine the Parkway’s potential for this designation. This feasibility study reveals the executive committee’s findings. Upon the conclusion of the study, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will make recommendations to Congress based on the study’s findings.

Study Process

The executive committee for this NHA feasibility study consisted of members of Friends of the Fox, representatives of the ECWRPC, and representatives of local environmental, recreational, and planning organizations. Executive committee members are listed in the Acknowledgement of this document.

The committee began with the development of an itemized study plan. This plan included the following tasks:
  • Consult with congressional representatives
  • Create an advisory committee of local experts
  • Create and implement a public involvement strategy that consists of individual and organizational outreach and input
  • Delineate boundary alternatives
  • Research the history of the Parkway and determine its national significance
  • Conduct a natural and cultural resource inventory
  • Develop potential interpretive themes based on the history and available resources within the boundaries of the Parkway
  • Analyze the existing public open space, recreation, and heritage education resources, and the opportunity for increasing or improving these with a NHA designation
  • Analyze best use of structures and lands formerly owned by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, currently owned by the State of Wisconsin
  • Investigate potential management strategies
  • Devise conceptual financial plan and outline roles for all participants
  • Assess the potential impacts of alternatives through an environmental assessment, meeting National Policy Act requirements
  • Consult with the Wisconsin Historical Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Wisconsin Department of Resources
  • Consult with area tribal authorities

Study Area

The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway study area is comprised of two rivers—the Fox River (Upper, Lower, and the Winnebago Pool Lakes that join them) and the lower portion of the Wisconsin River. The Lower Fox and Lower Wisconsin are currently listed within the National Rivers Inventory. The Parkway area incorporates approximately 1,444 square miles, consisting of 329 square miles of water cover and 1,115 square miles of land cover.

The area runs through fifteen counties in Wisconsin:
  • Brown
  • Calumet
  • Columbia
  • Crawford
  • Dane
  • Fond du Lac
  • Grant
  • Green Lake
  • Iowa
  • Marquette
  • Outagamie
  • Richland
  • Sauk
  • Waushara
  • Winnebago

Boundary delineations were primarily established by the course of the rivers and based upon the historic route of Marquette and Joliet. The committee defined these boundaries further through an examination of the natural and cultural resources associated with the history of the rivers and the proposed interpretive themes. Their research concluded that resources offering the highest degree of integrity and relevance lay within areas closest to the rivers. A two-mile buffer, extending from the centerline of the rivers also allows for the inclusion of many parks, green spaces, and the 350 acres of land associated with the locks, dams, and harbors. This land includes eight parcels along the Upper Fox, nine parcels along the Lower Fox, and three harbors of refuge on the east shore of Lake Winnebago.

While additional historical and natural resources reside outside the study area, the committee concluded that there are sufficient resources located within the boundaries to fully convey the themes. These supplementary resources currently maintain a level of protection and management capable of sustainability. Their exclusion does not preclude these resources from being interpreted in conjunction with the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway themes by the State of Wisconsin, local agencies, and organizations. In the future, the committee will be open to extending the boundary to include additional resources if deemed appropriate by the Parkway board.

Public Involvement

The concept for the Parkway originated from a group of private citizens, with the public being asked for their ideas in the visioning process. This visioning was brought forward and remains as the backbone of the current effort. In devising the NHA public involvement strategy, it was the executive committee’s intent that this project be understood, accepted, actively supported, and once again, contributed to by the public throughout the study process. This was particularly important as the study was undertaken by local sponsors. The team identified important contacts within the state to assist with this strategy. These contacts include: local governments, historical societies, American Indian nations, planning and economic groups, and educational and environmental organizations.

The public involvement strategy consisted of a four-pronged approach, involving a series of public meetings, interviews and informal discussions, informational materials, and consultations. Details of this strategy are listed below. For further information, please see Chapter 9 of this study.

Heritage Parkway Public Involvement Strategy:

Public Meetings
  • Dialogues with civic groups and general public. These dialogues explain the concept, boundaries, and themes of the Heritage Parkway and seek civic groups’ input on ideas, concepts, and how the Heritage Parkway will integrate with the community. These meetings typically focus on the interpretive programming that a NHA can provide for a community as well as how the Parkway will enhance what is already in place. Desire for continued involvement and potential partnerships are assessed. Sign-in sheets are used and the presenters ask permission to add these contacts to the electronic newsletter described previously.
  • Historical listening sessions. These meetings bring together local historical societies from a specific region to explain the Heritage Parkway project and seek information on historical sites and events that have a connection with the themes of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway. They are also used to identify and classify important resources, programming, and activities, and to assess the level of public support for the proposed management alternatives. Desire for continued involvement and potential partnerships are assessed. Sign-in sheets are used and the presenters ask permission to add these contacts to the electronic newsletter described previously.
  • Follow up. Each of the groups reached in the public meetings will receive a follow up to share the completed feasibility study and the proposed next steps. Input on specific projects, signage, interpretation, and partnerships will be collected and heavily relied upon. This project needs to continue to be embraced and supported by the larger community in order to achieve success.
Interviews and Informational Discussions
  • Dialogues with local governments. These individual community meetings are held with each community on the system and include elected and appointed officials, planning departments, and park and recreation departments. These presentations explain the concept of the Heritage Parkway, the boundaries, and the themes. While the initial focus of the meeting is to inform the community of the project, the larger goal is to seek municipal involvement and the gathering of local level knowledge. Those at the meeting will be asked for their reaction to the project and its boundaries and for their input on the concepts put forth. They will then be asked to share their individual community’s development plan and to react to how it and the Heritage Parkway will be able to integrate. These meetings typically focus on the economic development that a NHA can provide for a community. Desire for continued involvement and potential partnerships are assessed. Sign-in sheets are used and the presenters ask permission to add these contacts to the electronic newsletter described previously. A letter of support or resolution is requested.
  • Creation of Citizen Advisory Committee. A committee is formed consisting of experts in the areas of education, environmental advocacy, municipal planning, marketing, public relations, and grant making. They are consulted at critical times during the study and planning process and asked to contribute advice and contacts.
Informational Materials
  • Electronic newsletter. Creation and distribution of an electronic newsletter that is delivered on a quarterly basis to those affected by or interested in the Parkway, as well as community, state, and federal representatives. This newsletter updates recipients on work that is proceeding, coming events, and sections on promoting local communities, historical people and places, and related projects proceeding in the area.
  • Brochure/marketing material. One set of marketing materials will be used as a fundraising and friendraising tool at the beginning of the Heritage Parkway planning process. This will serve to increase awareness and partnerships throughout the corridor. A second set of marketing materials will be created in conjunction with the Department of Tourism for the purpose of drawing visitors to the area from surrounding towns as well as states.
  • Distribution of articles in newspapers and newsletters. Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway articles are placed in regional and community newspapers. Relationships are fostered with area non-profits and permission is gained to place Heritage Parkway articles in their newsletters to be distributed to their membership.
  • Website. A website is created and dedicated to the Heritage Parkway with support from the Department of Tourism and the Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • Consultation with the Wisconsin Historical Society, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, WDNR. During the study process, conversations with these agencies occur with the purpose of informing them about the project and requesting their input and ideas and reactions to the project. They are also consulted as to how their agency wishes to be advised of the completed study, and how they wish to participate going forward. Based on that feedback, a completed draft of the feasibility study is forwarded to the Wisconsin Historical Society with a “Request for SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) Comment and Consultation on a Federal Undertaking” form. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) has given input on the Affected Environment Chapter during compilation of the study. A completed draft of the feasibility study is submitted to USFW for official comment. A completed draft of the feasibility study is submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for official comment.
  • Consultation with American Indian Tribes in area. Phone calls are made to the three tribes with relevant history within the boundaries of the Heritage Parkway during compilation of the study. Every attempt is made to get input on the American Indian piece of history. A completed draft of the feasibility study is submitted to the Tribal Preservation Officers for official comment.

Coordination with Concurrent Studies and Efforts

While working on the study, the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway Executive Committee became aware of the following studies and is working to coordinate efforts:

Ice Age Trail Plan

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,000-mile footpath—entirely within the State of Wisconsin—that celebrates the legacy of the Ice Age. Diverse geological features along the trail rank among the finest examples of continental glaciation anywhere in the world.

The Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation (IAPTF), a volunteer and member-based non-profit organization, protects, promotes, builds and maintains the Ice Age Trail. IAPTF staff and volunteers work cooperatively with the WDNR, NPS, local governments, businesses and private landowners to shape the Ice Age Trail into one of the premier hiking trails in the United States.

The ECWRPC, through a cooperative agreement with the NPS, was contracted to conduct the public planning effort for the Waushara County segment of the Ice Age Trail. The final report was completed and published in May 2007. Future trail segments through Marquette County are the focus of the next planning effort.

Niagara Escarpment Greenway Plan

The ECWRPC in partnership with the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission and the WDNR, recently received an award of two years worth of technical assistance from the NPS’s Rivers and Trails Program to develop a regional ‘greenway plan’ for the Niagara Escarpment corridor. The project was requested on behalf of the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network, a ten year organizational effort whose main goal is to improve awareness of this unique resource and its related land use, habitat, and groundwater quality planning issues. The successful application was submitted in late 2007 and was awarded in early 2008, with a start date during 2009. The geographic scope of the plan includes Dodge, Fond du Lac, Calumet, Manitowoc, Brown, Kewaunee, and Door counties.

The main intent of the broad-scale plan will be to assess and define the 150-mile long Niagara Escarpment corridor for potential recreational and interpretive trail linkage opportunities, which may ultimately improve awareness of the globally unique feature, as well as to encourage increased resource and recreation-based tourism and economic development. The planning process will be led by NPS’s Milwaukee Office while the two regional planning commissions and the WDNR will co-lead the process and provide data, information, and support during the plan’s development. It is expected that this planning process will be initiated in the late spring/early summer of 2009 and the plan will be completed by May 2010, coinciding with a 2009 state legislative proclamation [AJR1], which designates the year 2010 as the “Year of the Niagara Escarpment.”

State Trunk Highway 60 Scenic Byway Plan

In November 2007, the Scenic Byways Advisory Committee (SBAC) conducted a thorough review of State Trunk Highway (STH) 60’s scenic and related resources as part of STEP 1 of the application process for scenic byway designation. Richland County was the formal local government sponsor. Mark Cupp, Executive Director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, completed the majority of the actual application. The SBAC concluded that the Lower Wisconsin River Road did indeed have those scenic and related characteristics needed for designation, and unanimously recommended that the applicant proceed with STEP 2 of the application process that included the creation of a corridor management plan and the demonstration of local support through resolutions. Since STH 60 successfully completed these requirements, Secretary Busalacchi approved the request to designate this route as a Wisconsin Scenic Byway on April 6, 2009.

Total Maximum Daily Load Management Plan

To improve water quality, a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL plan is being developed for the Lower Fox and Green Bay. Total Maximum Daily Load is equal to the sum of the Waste Load Allocation from point sources, plus the Load Allocation from nonpoint sources, plus a Margin of Safety, which accounts for uncertainty between pollutant loads and the quality of the receiving waterbody. Many of the basin’s wetlands are also impaired and will benefit from the TMDL process. Wetland restoration has the potential to provide the greatest benefit to overcoming degraded habitat for fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic and terrestrial life in the basin.

Partners working on the TMDL plan include the WDNR, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey, University of Wisconsin—Green Bay, University of Wisconsin—Extension, Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department, and the Oneida Tribe of Indians. The focus of the TMDL is to reduce the amount of phosphorus and sediment in the Lower Fox River Basin and Green Bay.

Beneficial Use Impairment Restoration

Areas of Concern (AOCs) were identified in the mid-1980s through work completed by the federal governments of the United States and Canada, in cooperation with state and provincial governments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). The 1987 amendments to the GLWQA further defined the Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs). The BUIs in the Lower Fox River and Green Bay AOC are the result of historic industrial and municipal waste discharges leading to contaminated sediments and excessive nutrient and sediment loading from multiple sources. A PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) remedial action is ongoing and a TMDL for phosphorus and total suspended solids is being developed.

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration set a priority for having targets for delisting set for all BUIs by the end of 2008. The Lower Fox River and Green Bay BUI delisting target development is being coordinated with the PCB remedial action and TMDL process. Both of these projects have progressed to a point where BUI discussion is now appropriate. It is anticipated that BUI delisting targets will be identified for the Lower Fox River and Green Bay AOC that complement these ongoing activities by mid-2009. These targets are intended to guide local citizens, as well as state and federal agency staff, as they plan and work within the AOC. The WDNR is taking the lead with support from the EPA.

PCB Remediation Plan

As a result of the recycling of PCB-containing carbonless copy paper, area mill operations discharged PCBs in waste streams, contaminating sediment in the Lower Fox River. The Lower Fox River is the largest source of PCBs to Lake Michigan in the basin. From 1957 to 1971, about 250,000 pounds of PCBs were released, contaminating 11 million tons of sediment. It is estimated that some 160,000 pounds of PCBs have already left the Fox River and entered Green Bay and Lake Michigan. On average, 300 to 500 additional pounds are flushed from the Lower Fox sediment each year. Floods would flush additional thousands of pounds into Green Bay. Once PCBs are released into the bay and Lake Michigan, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

The cleanup began in 2004, and a status review of the cleanup to date is scheduled to start in fall of 2009. The Superfund law requires regular reviews of sites (at least every five years)—where the cleanup is complete or where cleanup has been ongoing for at least five years—but hazardous waste remains managed on-site. These reviews are done to ensure that the cleanup continues to protect people and the environment. In particular, the EPA will be looking at the cleanup of Little Lake Butte des Morts (also referred to as Operable Unit 1). In 2004, the EPA began cleaning up PCB-contaminated sediment in the lake. The cleanup consists of dredging higher levels of PCBs and placing caps and sand covers over sediment with lower levels. This is the first five-year review for the Lower Fox River/Green Bay site. A “five-year review report” was completed by May 2009.

Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring

The lock at Rapide Croche is the site of a fixed barrier to prevent the upstream migration of sea lampreys into the Lake Winnebago chain of lakes. This lock will not be functional. Instead, a boat lift and transfer station will move boats overland from the downstream side of the lock and clean them prior to placement on the upstream side. Protecting the Lake Winnebago sturgeon population and native fisheries from the potential adverse impacts of aquatic invasive species (AIS) must be the primary consideration in the operation of the transfer station and at other system access points.

Monitoring for aquatic invasive species is taking place from May to September each year. The monitoring is performed by Lawrence University students under the direction of Dr. Bart DeStasio and will include sampling in the navigation pools up and downstream from Rapide Croche Lock. Sampling methods will target fish and invertebrates. Monitoring has already begun to establish a baseline before the transfer operation commences.

Despite the significant effort proposed herein to prevent the spread of AIS at the Rapide Croche boat transfer station, AIS may still be introduced to the Lake Winnebago system because Rapide Croche is not the sole access point. Over sixty boat access points around the lakes and the Upper and Lower Fox River offer potential entry sites for invasive species on trailered boats. The connection with the Wisconsin River at Portage may also allow AIS access to the system. Law enforcement, education, outreach, and cooperation with upstream anglers and boaters are essential for the overall success of the AIS prevention effort.

Steps to Be Undertaken

The feasibility study of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway has been distributed in paper and electronic form for review by the public. Individual feedback will be collected by the executive committee members throughout the reviewing process. Written comments may be addressed to Candice Mortara, President of Friends of the Fox at the address and by the date specified in the Abstract of this document.

After review and compilation of the public comments, the study will be presented to the U.S. senators and representatives for Wisconsin. These officials will submit the completed study to the NPS for comment. The NPS will review the project to see that it meets the ten criteria for a successful Heritage Area and will provide written feedback. The Park Service will then forward the study and review to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior will then make a recommendation to the U.S. Congress. Should the Secretary of the Interior recommend the designation of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway National Heritage Area, congressional legislation will be required.

Concurrently to these official actions, the Heritage Parkway Executive Committee will continue to meet to develop and implement the marketing plan for the fundraising and friendraising. Signage necessities, opportunities, and issues will be analyzed. The first leg of the water trail will be constructed; the best options for land trail connections will be assessed. In-depth historical stories will be collected in partnership with the local historical societies with interpretation potential being looked into.