Preserving Elkhart Lake for generations to come

Residents & Community

Shorelands may look peaceful, but they are actually the hotbed of activity on a lake. 90% of all living things found in our lakes—from fish, to frogs, turtles, insects, birds, and other wildlife—are found along the shallow margins and shores. Many species rely on shorelands for all or part of their life cycles as a source for food, a place to sleep, cover from predators, and to raise their young. Shorelands and shallows are the spawning grounds for fish, nesting sites for birds, and where turtles lay their eggs. There can be as much as 500% more species diversity at the water’s edge compared to adjoining uplands.

Shoreland plants provide food and cover for the lake’s creatures. They also prevent shoreline erosion by buffering lake waves and slowing down runoff washing into the lake from the watershed. Plants help filter pollutants entering the lake, use nutrients that might otherwise be consumed by algae, and aquatic plants release oxygen into the water which helps support lake fish. In addition, natural shorelines can also help control flooding, make it harder for aquatic invasive species to establish themselves in a lake, muffle noise from watercraft, and preserve privacy and natural scenic beauty.

If your shoreline has been altered, the good news is that it can be restored. Shoreline restoration involves recreating buffer zones of natural plants and trees. Not only do quality wild shorelines create higher property values, but they bring many other values too. Some of these are aesthetic in nature, while others are essential to a healthy ecosystem. Healthy shorelines mean healthy fish populations, varied plant life, and the existence of the insects, invertebrates and amphibians which feed our fish, birds and other creatures.

See the lake stewardship activities page for shoreland restoration resources.

Leave fallen trees in the water

Leave fallen trees in the water to provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Trees that have fallen into the lake are an important source of nutrients and minerals for our lakes, and help protect shorelines from erosion. Fallen wood forms critical habitat for tiny aquatic organisms that feed bluegills, turtles, crayfish and other critters. Many species—such as turtles, frogs, dragonflies, songbirds, and otters—use downed trees as both a feeding area and hiding place. Fallen trees are also an important source of nutrients and minerals for our lakes, and they help protect shorelines from erosion.

Install a reasonably sized pier

Installing one reasonably sized pier will not significantly affect the health of the lake, however the cumulative effect of installing many piers may impact shoreland habitat and overall lake quality. The larger the pier the more shoreland area it can potentially disturb and shade.

The assertion that piers make good fish habitat is commonly repeated, but recent studies are showing that the opposite is true. Piers can shade out plants, which are important habitat for fish, and can “break” contiguous shoreland habitat. In addition to shading plants underneath the pier, property owners often must clear additional plants away from their pier in order to launch boats.

See Department of Natural Resources piers page (exits site) for Wisconsin’s pier rules

3 Responses

  • Charles Windsor says:

    If piers kill plants, maybe we need more and bigger piers. Then we won’t need to put harsh chemicals into the lake to kill the plants!

  • Paul La Pointe says:

    Piers are not the enemy. Overcrowding of the shoreline is the enemy. My family first came to Elkhart over a hundred years ago, and I first came to Elkhart in the 1950’s. Back then, there was no controlled runoff from farms or industrial sites, and it was obvious in places that the fertilizer or waste runoff from the farms was fostering weeds. But they were then nothing like today. It seems as overcrowding on the lake has increased, so have all the ills, like the millfoil invasion, the zebra mussels, and the general chaos on Saturdays in the summer. Yes, we have septic system laws now, and yes, we have shoreline restrictions on building and such, but the problem at Elkhart, a lake that we all love, is overpopulation. The pressure on the lake in the 1950’s was light by today’s measure. Even though we have controlled much of the farm runoff and closed down the septic systems that leaked into the lake, the water quality worsens. There is too much pressure on the lake; witness how many more houses have been built, how large they are, and how many boats they spawn on a summer’s day.

    What we need to do is to reduce the pressure on Elkhart, and on many other lakes. We cannot in good faith ban people from enjoying God’s gift to us – the beautiful lakes like Elkhart that adorn Wisconsin. But we must find a way to embrace a more sustainable approach to life – fewer children, less grandiose houses, more community. We can’t forever increase our population and expect the world to remain wild and pristine.

    Paul R. La Pointe, Ph.D., L.G, L.Hg

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