A Sense of Place

Restoration Ecology in the Token Creek Watershed

TOKEN CREEK, WISC. – For just one day–August 25–the public is invited to an exclusive guided walking tour of a pristine private farm next to the Token Creek County Park.  With a segment of Token Creek – an important trout fishery and major source of water for Cherokee Marsh and Lake Mendota – this hundred-acre tract is a strategically located green space in a rapidly developing area. Originally purchased by Alice and Dan Pedersen in the 1930s, and passed on to their daughter Rose Mary Harbison, this property has been lovingly stewarded by a single family for most of the last century.

Token Creek flows south through the Harbison property on its way to the adjacent Token Creek County Park.

A Sense of Place:  Listen to the Land

Now for the first time, the Token Creek Festival has organized, as part of its annual summer music series, a special program to introduce visitors to the property and to share some ideas about prospects for its future as a green space. On August 25th, a panel of restoration ecologists knowledgeable about this site will talk about its water and land resources, natural features, anthropological and cultural history, and its prospects for the future. Interested participants will be invited on a 50-minute guided walking tour of the property, which will include surprise encounters with art along the way – visual, literary and musical. The program culminates in a brief performance, with a reception and continuing informal discussion with presenters.  (Full disclosure, the blogger, representing The Restoration Ecology Lab, along with colleagues William R. Jordan, III, and James Addis will be presenting at the Festival on August, 25.)


The Harbison property at Token Creek is a working farm, with flower and vegetable gardens, a small orchard, productive fields and active restoration projects.

Topics that Bill, Jim and myself will cover include the ecology of the Token Creek property, possibilities for restoration efforts, its role as part of Wisconsin’s important water resources, the essential role of humans in the stewardship of this land, and a chance to imagine the future of this ecologically, and culturally important property.

Restoration History in Token Creek Watershed

Of course, restoration projects and efforts to conserve and protect land in the Token Creek watershed are not new, nor confined to the Harbison property.  The Wisconsin DNR, Army Corps of Engineers, Token Creek Watershed Association, Town of Windsor, Trout Unlimited, the Natural Heritage Land Trust, and Dane County Parks have been actively working on water quality and habitat improvement projects in the watershed for many years to protect and enhance the watershed resources.

This interest stems in part from the hydrologic importance of the watershed and the fact that Token Creek is an important trout stream.  Token Creek itself is the only cold-water trout stream in northeastern Dane County.   In addition, the officially un-named tributary of Token Creek that flows through the Harbison’s Token Creek Farm is, in the words of one DNR fisheries biologist,  a “real fish-factory”.  Token Creek is part of a 27 square-mile watershed in northeastern Dane County that supplies nearly one-half of the base flow for Lake Mendota.

The Token Creek watershed.

Watershed Planning

Dane County Parks recognizes the strategic ecological, social, and cultural importance of the Token Creek watershed and has responded by developing a master plan that creates a resource protection vision for the future with its Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Master Plan (view map here TC&NR_2011_Pref_Alt_MPred.  For the full plan document go here.  The careful reader of this plan will notice the strategic location and importance of the Harbison property as a critical link in a developing urban “Green Corridor” in north-eastern Dane County.  More about this is subsequent posts.

I know that Token Creek is a bit far afield from the Wingra watershed but it may be instructive to examine the land planning, resource protection, and restoration efforts that have long gone on and are now reaching a critical point.  In addition, it is possible that the Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan (view here) could inform, and be a useful model for, watershed planning efforts underway now in the Lake Wingra watershed.  We will look more closely at this plan in later posts.

It’s Not Just About Ecology

The natural and cultural histories of the Token Creek property form a rich legacy that includes two generations of experiments in organic farming, nearly a quarter century of music festivals and forums, an ever-expanding community of participants, and the land itself. All of this presents a unique opportunity for serious conservation efforts that will enhance the local environment while exploring the role the arts have to play in the urgent task of reconnecting with nature. The Token Creek Festival continues through the week with the concerts that are typical of the Festival’s main fare. The annual jazz club this year offers a 75th anniversary tribute to George Gershwin, and the Festival concludes with a program of serenades by Bach, Harbison and Mozart, music that addresses the season themes of place, conservation, and restoration. Galleries this year will show the people and places of Token Creek.

In addition to crop fields, the Harbison’s Token Creek Farm consists of a variety of natural habitats including the trout stream, wet meadows, and woodlands.

All events will be held at the Festival Barn, 4037 Highway 19, near the hamlet of Token Creek, just west of Sun Prairie. Ample parking is available, and (except for the walking tour on August 25) the venue is indoors and air-conditioned.  For more information visit the Festival website.


About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (#0093 SER) and writer living in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Ecological restoration, Madison lakes and beaches, Restoration ecology, Token Creek, Token Creek Watershed, Watershed protection and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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