BY KATIE MATTESON
Ben Haas will watch the water at Quarry Lake Park very closely during the month of May. The extent of the annual spring algae bloom will indicate whether recent efforts to improve the water quality of the lake are working.
Haas, who serves as the parks operational maintenance supervisor for Racine County Public Works, hopes that the improved water quality, beach and pier restoration, along with reconstruction of the parking lot and new LED lighting will bring area residents back to the 18-acre lake portion of the 40-acre park located on Northwestern Avenue in the City of Racine and Village of Mount Pleasant.
Other work planned for the facilities to improve visitor experiences include architectural work leading to rehab of the building and engineering work to consider replacement or removal of the retention wall.
The Karen A. Nelson Memorial Dog Park, located near the main entrance to the park, continues to grow in popularity since it opened in 2011.
“Judging by our doggy bag supplies, the dog park gets huge use year round,” Haas said.
Other popular areas of the park include the fishing piers on the lake and fishing and kayak access to the Root River on the west side of the park, along with the outdoor picnic areas and the pavilion for rentals.
“I’m happy to report that the geese seldom hang out around the building any more,” Haas said.
A graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Haas sought help from his former professor Joy Wolf two years ago to figure out how to solve the water problems created by excess nutrients in the closed system – a spring fed lake created in a former quarry.
To create a system to naturally remove the excess nutrients in the water that would otherwise be available to algae, Prof. Wolf connected Haas with Dr. Stephen Lyon, a local environmental scientist with 37 years of experience in water/wastewater treatment and microbial ecology.
Lyon designed the phytoremediation islands, aka floating wetlands, that were installed in 2017 with help from the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps.
Prof. Wolf, her students, and Lyon took on the project that started with the creation of a bathymetric map of the lake using a Garmin Echomap sonar. Then they collected sediment samples from various depths and are testing them in the lab at UW-Parkside to find out what bacteria are present and where in the sediment layer they reside.
In 2018, Haas and his crew took on the beach restoration. Last fall the beach was closed so that the lake could be drawn down to find the exact location of the drop off to the original quarry. To determine a beach restoration line, workers dug holes to find organic matter on the bedrock. Once the edge was established, bulldozers moved the sand/sediment past the drop off.
Following the removal of the old beach, 75 truckloads brought in 1,630 tons of sand to create a new beach.
After the beach restoration, the lake was treated with aluminum sulfate (alum). According to Haas, the alum creates a weak chemical bond with phosphates and causes suspended impurities (colloids,bacteria, etc.) to coagulate (i.e. flocculation or floc). When floc gains enough weight, it settles to the bottom of the lake and traps phosphates and impurities there from three to 15 years.
“This is important for the quarry because it should minimize nutrient cycling during the spring and fall turnover,” Haas said.
The floating wetlands will continue to serve as a filter for the introduction of new nutrients, primarily from birds, mostly geese and ducks, which live in and around the lake.
It also turns out that the birds like to eat the plants in the floating wetlands.
“We used to blame the geese, “ Haas said. “But last fall we realized that the ducks are the primary culprits.”
If an effort to keep the ducks away from the floating wetlands, they’ve installed netting and are growing their own plants to replenish ones that get eaten or damaged.
The root systems of the plants go deep into the water, so once they’re established they can work continuously to clear the water.
Haas said that a UW-Parkside student-researcher will continue regular testing for DO, ORP, Phosphates, Nitrates, pH, Turbidity, TDS, etc. with meters and probes.
“This spring/summer we will be installing a weather station and testing the islands using a solar powered water pump and measuring its filtering capacity.” Haas said.
While Haas is responsible for the maintenance of all of the county’s 30 parks, he admits holding a special affection for Quarry Lake Park.
He’s hopeful that the beach will open this spring. While no lifeguards supervise the beach, the City of Racine tests the water quality weekly.
For more information, call (262) 886-8440.