Big changes are happening to a little creek that runs through the heart of the Town of Grafton and what was once the Ulao Settlement.
At one time Ulao Creek's headwaters bubbled up in the Ulao Swamp beginning in an area that is now covered by the WeEnergies fly ash dump. Watercress grew in abundance along the banks. Children swam and people fished in this clear and meandering stream. Wildlife was diverse and abundant.
In the early 1900's, things began to change. Much of this lovely creek was channeled for progress - mostly for the railroad. Later, in the 1950's, Dutch Elm Disease spread through the swamp and many stately trees along the bank fell into and over the creek, bringing tons of debris down with them. In the years following, flooding increased and the need to protect farm fields brought local residents together. The Kaul, Hoppe and Helms families and other creek-side landowners joined forces to create The Ulao Creek Partnership with a mission to improve the creek and adjacent impacted land.
Over the years, The Ulao Creek Partnership, with much support from Ozaukee County, has made vast improvements to the creek, clearing the channel, planting trees for flood control and removing invasive vegetation. The creek, however, has remained confined in its dug channel along the side of the railroad tracks, and that is how most everyone thought it would always be.
Recently something very surprising happened!
Ozaukee County Planning & Parks Department, through its Milwaukee River Watershed Fish Passage Program added Ulao Creek to its rivers restoration plan for Ozaukee. They obtained grant funding and hired Solutions 101 LLC, a project management company that goes to great lengths in limiting its footprint on a site, disturbing only areas necessary for the completion of a project. Solutions 101 owner, Jim Sykes, says "We work closely with our clients to create a plan that best fits the owner's vision for the property and to provide a legacy for future generations of land stewards."
Inspired by the conservation focus of the project, Wacker Neuson, a multi-national German based manufacturer of compact construction equipment, selected this project to field-test its newest equipment. Solutions 101 and the Wacker Neuson development team chose the equipment being used for its compact size, versatility, agility, and efficiency. Working with equipment that offers a smaller turning radius and the option to add attachments means less impact is made to the surrounding landscape.
There are 2 areas of reconstruction underway on Ulao Creek, one east of Arrowhead Road and the Gateway site, south of Hwy 60 behind the BP station. This project will work to revitalize the watershed by re-creating conditions similar to pre-settlement times in the project-area parts of Ulao Creek.
The new stream channel, designed to be similar to the original, is being cleared of all brush, small trees, tall grasses and debris using hand tools and mowing equipment. Any man-made garbage that is encountered is properly disposed of and removed from the site. Great care is taken with erosion control during the project to prevent sediment from the area of restoration to move into an unapproved area.
Wetland scrapes are being added to improve spawning and breeding habitat in the Arrowhead Road project area. Ponds will go in where appropriate. Fish, waterfowl, herptiles and other wildlife have been considered in the planning. The entire project is being done with the existing soils – no new soil is being brought in and no existing soil is being taken out. Things are just moved around. Once the new waterway has been constructed and water diverted into the new stream, the existing ditch will be filled and covered with vegetation as a form of natural long-term erosion control. Native trees and understory vegetation will be planted once the groundwork is complete. Ulao Creek Partnership will work with Ozaukee County and many local volunteers in this effort.
Sometimes things happen that no one expects and outcomes exceed hopes. This is one of those stories. Ulao Creek will have a new and improved stream bed in two places, much like it had many years ago. Watershed vegetation will be greatly improved with the planting of native species. Fish and wildlife will have richer and more diverse habitat. The Ulao Creek Partnership and many Town of Grafton residents are already celebrating a restoration of great importance, and one they never expected.
Ulao Creek runs south of the Ulao Swamp through private lands east of I-43. It flows through the Colder's property, under Hwy. 60 and behind the BP station, the Waterstreet Brewery and the Hampton Inn & Suites. From there it flows south, east of I-43 and the railroad. Near Lakefield Road it vanishes, buried underground so I-43 could come through. It re-emerges alongside of the Family Farm on the west border of I-43 and from there meanders south until it joins the Milwaukee River near Highland Road.