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RACINE — No park in the greater Racine area has seen more change than the 79-acre Pritchard Park has experienced over the past year, and its transformation has only started.

The park’s most visible addition was last summer’s opening of the $6.5 million SC Johnson Community Aquatic Center. Next spring, construction is to start on the SC Johnson Community Sports Complex, pending Racine County Board and Racine Unified School Board approvals. (The county’s contract with SCJ to accept the donation for the Aquatic Center included the naming of any future sports complex at Pritchard Park.)

Beyond those man-made, recreational enhancements, plans for the park also will include numerous improvements in the natural domain. Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network is working with Racine County, with contributions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Fund for Lake Michigan.

Those projects are be done in specific areas of the park, including:

  • The southeast wetland, on approximately 5 acres near the intersection of Durand Avenue and Ohio Street.
  • To the west and northwest of there, a wetland/forest area.
  • Around a retention pond in the park’s central area, west of the Aquatic Center.
  • The pond at the park’s northeast corner.

Dave Giordano, executive director of Root-Pike WIN, explained that the multipronged, ambitious project grew from the fact that restoring the park’s northeast pond is listed in the nonprofit organization’s Pike River Watershed restoration plan. He said that pond area — used far more as a gigantic bathroom for Canada geese than by people — is a very high Root-Pike WIN priority “because of its low quality but its high upside if it would get restored.”

Giordano said: “When I met with the county — this was almost three years ago — I put some of these projects in front of (Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave) and Julie Anderson (county director of public works and development services) and said, ‘Hey, can we work together to try to move some of these forward?’ And they said yes. And they’ve been great partners.

“Because then we started to look at other areas of the park and realized: Wow, we’ve got more work to do here.”

Sports and nature

Plans for the aquatic center and sports complex moved forward during the process of planning the natural-area upgrades.

“When all these projects are done,” Giordano said, “we may not have the total acreage that used to be there, as far as natural area, but the areas that are natural will have a much higher upside because of their diversity, their functionality and their attractiveness.

“Having a forest full of buckthorn (an invasive tree species), it may look pretty from the road, but when you really dig into the details, it serves very little value.”

“With the development of the SC Johnson Community Aquatic Center and SC Johnson Community Sports Complex, Pritchard Park is becoming a new destination for Racine County residents and visitors,” Delagrave said Friday.

“While we add amenities to Pritchard Park,” Delagrave continued, “we are not only maintaining the park’s environmental integrity, but improving it. Upgrades including enhanced natural areas and restored wetlands will make the park a better overall experience for our residents, visitors and youth. Our partnerships with Root-Pike WIN, the Fund for Lake Michigan and other groups are a win-win for the community and help keep Pritchard Park beautiful.”

Changes at south end

Passers-by can hardly have missed some of the changes that have occurred at Pritchard so far. First came the removal of hundreds of dead ash trees, victims of the emerald ash borer beetle. The county will remove invasive buckthorn late this fall or early next year, depending on funding, according to Giordano.

The pollinator swale, part of phase two, was formed and recently planted.

The last phase, if Root-Pike WIN can land the funds, would be sweeping changes at the goose-infested northeast pond, a manmade body of water. Giordano hopes that work can start by late next year.

The project would involve removing the stone, planting tall grasses and more prairie plants around the edges to discourage geese from being squatters there, and potentially dredging.

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, right?” Giordano said.

Because the tall grasses will limit public access, Root-Pike WIN will also fundraise to build a nice-sized fishing pier. The state Department of Natural Resources stocks that pond with fish, Giordano said.

Wetland attributes

This year, the southeast wetland was wiped clear of all vegetation with an herbicide to create a blank canvas, and was seeded this month. The wetland and swale will take three years to achieve full vegetation. At some point, the county will provide wood chips to form a trail around those areas.

“This wetland … has the features that show it to be a strong wetland,” Giordano said. Wetlands process pollutants, provide wildlife habitat and hold and store large amounts of water. He said 90 percent of the Pike River Watershed’s wetlands are either gone or altered; that’s one of the big reasons why we see more flooding.

“It’s not just about turtles and frogs — it’s about how much water these wetlands can store,” Giordano said. “That’s why they’re so important.

“But they also provide, when they’re restored properly, that habitat upside and that water-quality upside because wetland plants can process pollutants.

“This wetland is going to be a beautiful place. And people are going to want to be around it … when you have clean water, you have places where people are going to want to be.”

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Reporter

Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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