Going for Green in Wisconsin
Barker’s Island has undergone many transformations since Captain Charles S. Barker dumped vengeance sand in front of the lakeside home of his political frenemy, the mayor of Superior. Flash forward 140 years, and what began as a landmass of resentment has become a popular recreation spot and home to the Lake Superior Reserve’s offices and its Estuarium.
In recent years, however, flooding and water quality problems have raised big concerns about the island’s sustainability. This prompted the Lake Superior Reserve to help write a new chapter in the Barker’s Island story—one in which green infrastructure plays a starring role.
“Green infrastructure creates welcoming spaces that people can enjoy and use to connect with the natural environment,” observes Karina Heim, the Reserve’s coastal training coordinator. “Our Reserve, like others, supports work that strengthens the estuary and the people who surround it. Promoting the science and the practice of green infrastructure in our local communities is one way we do that.”
In recent years, Barker’s Island has become a hub for green infrastructure demonstration sites. On Barker’s Beach, for example, pervious pavement parking spaces and raised boardwalks have helped improve the visitor experience. And as monitoring by the Reserve and others has begun to show, it is likely these installations also are contributing to improvements in water quality in receiving waters.
“The Island is our Reserve’s home,” says Heim, “and it’s fantastic to see and help steward the green infrastructure renaissance that is happening right now in this small footprint, high traffic area next to the water.”
To shine a spotlight on these improvements for local communities, the Reserve partnered with the City of Superior and others to host a green infrastructure walking tour for local decision makers last fall. Each stop featured a different improvement, hosted by an expert who could explain the design and its benefits with regard to water quality improvement and flood reduction.
“Barkers Island is one of Superior’s highly valued and highly visited access points to the estuary,” says Heim. “As the mayor expressed when he opened our walking tour, green infrastructure provides the community with benefits that go far beyond water management; we look forward to continuing to work with the City and the community to promote those benefits in 2022.”
First stop at Barker’s Beach. Matt Steiger, St. Louis River area of concern coordinator with Wisconsin DNR, explains how porous concrete under the picnic tables allows water to soak into the ground instead of running directly into the estuary, carrying pollution into the water.
Above: Impervious parking spaces prevented water from draining naturally and directed storm water to the beach. Below: Pervious parking spaces allow water to drain into filtering swales.