There's work to be done in the Nicholson Wildlife Area, but it won't cost village taxpayers a dime. Several groups in the area are coming together to build a boardwalk and add signage to the park.
Some of the work has already begun and the project will be completed by the end of this summer.
Officials with the Hoy Audubon, Root-Pike WIN, Weed-Out! Racine, the , the Village Parks Commission, the Sierra Club, and the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program want to make the wildlife area more accessible to the public.
“I’m really impressed by how many groups are getting involved with this project,” said Melissa Warner, a former science teacher at St. Catherine's High School and Caledonia resident.
The reason: the 127.4-acre area located off of 5 Mile Road between Highway H and Nicholson Road, is a secondary environmental corridor, which means that it is used extensively by wildlife.
People have seen Great Blue Herons, Snow Geese, Canadian Geese, Tundra Swans, Mallards and Hooded Mergansers as well as Magnolia Warblers, Red Wing Blackbirds and Savanna Sparrows in the wildlife area. Deer and Beaver have also been sighted there.
“And because the wildlife use the area, it’s worth protecting,” Warner said.
But the public doesn’t have access to it.
Warner wrote the grant because she was talking to John Leiber, president of the Village Park Commission, one day and he told Warner the wildlife area is hard to get into because the trail leading into the wetlands area often floods.
“Because of the landscape at Nicholson, when it rains you really can’t get into the park,” Leiber said. “There’s a stream that goes through it and it floods, and you can’t get into the park in the spring and the fall. It's a shame because if any school groups come in they can only come in the summer and they are out of school then.”
Leiber said he had thought that the wildlife area needed to be more accessible, but he wasn’t sure how to get the project done.
“Melissa has done a majority of the work. I had the idea -- and Melissa did too -- but I had no idea how to get it done,” Leiber said. “It was all very timely.”
Warner is also a member of Root-Pike WIN, Weed-Out! Racine, and the Sierra Club. Root-Pike WIN gave the Village an $8,000 grant to build the boardwalk, add signage and get rid of invasive plants in the wildlife area.
None of the money being used for the project is coming out of the Village’s budget, but they had about $4,000 from an account that was set up to specifically improve the wildlife area in the 1970s. The money had been sitting in account earning interest. They also had a $1,000 in donations sitting in another fund designated for park improvements.
Hoy Audubon is helping with the labor, designing the signs, and recommending habitat enhancements for the birds, like nest boxes, Warner said.
Students in the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program will build the boardwalk segments them along the pathway that leads to a wetlands area.
The program helps people gain the training they need to go into an apprenticeship program.
“We couldn’t have done it without them, it’s great that they are willing to help out,” Leiber said.
Leiber said this project is the first phase of a long-term plan to improve the wildlife area and eventually they’d like to do a walk way and an observation deck.