In 1836, when William Burt walked this land with his original survey crew, he drew this map.
The land that was to become Havenwoods is outlined in red. You will notice a wetland area in the northeast corner – near where the education center sits today. People, time, drainage tiles, and bulldozers completely transformed this land during the 170+ years since the survey.
The wetland in the northeast corner was long ago drained, filled, and built upon. Today, there are two wetland areas and a creek at Havenwoods.
The South Pond was constructed in 1983.
The picture below (from 1987) shows a group of kids enjoying a summer afternoon at the pond. As they scooped for tadpoles and dragonfly larvae, they learned about the importance of wetlands for plants, animals, and people.
In spring, this pond is usually full of water from snow melt and spring rains. In most years, it dries up by mid to late summer. The water level fluctuates because the pond is fed only by precipitation and runoff. Nevertheless, it provides a place for leopard frogs to breed, migrating water birds to rest, and many animals to drink and find food.
Take time to stop by the South Pond on your visit. You never know what you might find.
Take a close look at that map from 1836. You’ll notice that Lincoln Creek didn't even exist! An 1869 plat map shows a creek, identified in other sources as Mud Creek, just south of Havenwoods’ western border.
A 1932 topographic map finally shows a creek flowing through Havenwoods.
At this point you may be wondering, how does a creek appear out of nowhere? Our best guess is this: as farmers converted the lowland forest to farmland, they needed to drain the land. Lincoln Creek probably started out as a drainage ditch. As more land was cleared, the ditch grew.
Slowly during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, the city of Milwaukee encircled Havenwoods. Rain fell on impervious buildings, roads, and parking lots. With no place to soak in, the rain followed the slope of the land to end up in creeks and rivers. By the mid-1970s, Lincoln Creek couldn’t handle the volume of water that ran off after big rainstorms.
At some point it was straightened, an attempt to move more water faster, but there was just too much water. Between 1960 and 1997, almost 2000 flooding problems were reported in the Lincoln Creek watershed, as basements, ground-level floors, and yards were flooded. Each year brought fewer places for the water to go and more severe flooding. And that brings us to the need for flood control . . .
Flood detention basins
Look back at William Burt's 1836 survey map one more time. Notice the three wetland areas. By the mid-1970s, those wetlands were long gone. People had spent years converting wetlands to farmlands and then cities. They tried to handle rainwater by making the creeks straight so they could drain water faster. They even lined them with concrete to increase the water speed. Sadly, it took over 150 years to realize that the best way to handle rainwater is to have wet, open places for the water to collect and soak in – similar to those wetlands that William and his survey crew encountered years ago.
From 1970 to 2000, plans to construct flood control ponds at Havenwoods were in the works. In 2000, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District began construction of three detention basins at Havenwoods. The work here was part of a comprehensive plan to reduce flooding in the Lincoln Creek watershed.
This picture from 2002 shows the work in progress. On the right you can see Lincoln Creek. The creek was moved east, widened, and sculpted with graceful curves. A berm (middle of photo) separates the creek from the detention basins (left side of photo). During a heavy rainstorm, the floodwaters flow over the berm to be stored in the detention basins. Some of the water soaks into the ground. The rest is slowly released back into the creek through adjustable weirs. You can see one of the weirs in the photo just to the right of the person.
Today, the area is still recovering. Animals like waterfowl quickly found the ponds. Muskrats, raccoons, deer, and other mammals come to the water for food and drink. Toads and other amphibians call from the basins in spring. It is taking longer for reptiles, like the Butler's gartersnake, to return to the area.
Invasive plants are a huge problem in the basins. They took advantage of the disturbed soil during construction, and they are difficult to manage.
Visit the flood control area for a great view from the pedestrian bridge (in photo below) and a walk out on the floating pier. While you are there, take a look at the interpretive signs which describe the operation of the flood control structures, the history of the area, and the vegetation that you can see.