Smoke on the (frozen) water

Lake of the Isles restoration moves to islands

KENWOOD — City Tree Inspector Dan Uhlenkott stood on the frozen surface of Lake of the Isles, just a few yards off the shore of Raspberry Island, watching a city parks crew cut through the thick underbrush.

Over the whine of chainsaws, Uhlenkott acknowledged what — from that perspective, on that day — was not a very pretty sight.

“Right now, you can see it’s a destruction zone,” he said. “I mean, logging is rough. It looks bad.”

Uhlenkott said he could understand how someone who wandered out onto Lake of the Isles in February or March might worry a bit. And he offered some reassurance.
“The end result, which is probably five years (off): They’re going to love it,” he said.

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board crews began the restoration of 3.5-acre Mike’s Island and 7.1-acre Raspberry Island in February by clearing buckthorn and mulberry, two invasive species. Specific restoration plans were still in development but called for the planting of native trees, shrubs and plants in coming years.

Both islands were designated wildlife sanctuaries by the Park Board. Over the years, though, they became less hospitable to wildlife as invasive species choked the islands, said Pat Scott, a longtime Kenwood resident active in the Lake of the Isles restoration process.

“The main island, Raspberry Island, had an enormous heron rookery decades ago,” Scott said.

She hoped herons would return in greater numbers following the restoration, but she expected a full recovery could take years.

By early March, the work already had produced a dramatic change.
The humped back of Mike’s Island, already cleared of buckthorn, was clearly visible in the wide spaces between mature deciduous trees. The elevation of Raspberry Island, by comparison, was still hidden by a tangle of buckthorn shrubs that had yet to yield to the chainsaw.

Bryan Frazier, an arborist crew leader, said Raspberry Island was “in much worse shape” than Mike’s Island. Past windstorms had uprooted mature trees on the island’s south end, leaving a tangle of roots and canopies knotted together with buckthorn.

“Pretty much this whole corner of the island was just a tangled mess,” Frazier said. “You couldn’t hardly walk through it.”

Frazier stood near a smoldering pile of buckthorn limbs, one of at least five fires burning on the island that morning. The Park Board settled on fire as the best way to dispose of debris from the restoration work, citing the expense and difficulty of trucking it off the frozen lake.

At other times of the year, Frazier and his team remove diseased elm trees from the Mississippi River valley. Through that work, he honed his controlled-burning skill.

“We can’t drag the Dutch Elm trees up out of there, so we normally just cut them down and burn them up right there,” he said. “So, I’ve got a few years of experience doing this.”

Forest Supervisor Randy Windsperger said the buckthorn stumps left behind were treated with Garlon, a pesticide.

“That’ll kill the stump and, hopefully, it won’t grow back,” Windsperger said.

Park Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said the battle against buckthorn would continue. Crews likely will return later this year and at intervals in coming years to remove invasive species, jNordstrom said.

She said the Park Board was developing proposals for native plantings on the islands, and would hold a public meeting on the plans sometime in the spring.

After clearing up some rumors about clear-cutting that spread early on, Nordstrom said she’s heard mostly positive comments about the project from her constituents.

Frazier said crews were aware of those rumors when they went to work.

“They were very concerned we were going to do something terrible out here, but if you look at it, the terrible stuff has already been done,” he said, referring to the abundant buckthorn. “We just want to start it over. You know?”

Reach Dylan Thomas at 436-4391 or [email protected]