Floating Staircases Provide Access

Virmond County Park in Mequon, Wis., includes a steep bluff that’s eroding into Lake Michigan. If Sea Grant’s Gene Clark and some project partners have their way, beach access for park visitors won’t require a nerve-tingling slide down the 130-foot high slippery clay slope. Visitors could simply walk down a unique set of stairways designed to “go with the flow” of the hillside’s unstable conditions.

Clark, a coastal engineer for Wisconsin Sea Grant, is included in a grant recently funded by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and led by the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department to design, construct and demonstrate floating staircase sections that fit the bluff’s topography. Multiple other organizations are involved in the project. See http://www.seagrant.wisc.edu/Home/AboutUsSection/PressRoom/Details.aspx?PostID=2544 for more information.

Once constructed, “The low-impact, low-cost staircases will be the first of their kind ever used in the Great Lakes and could provide a model for safe beach access in other unstable bluff areas,” said Clark.

Virmond County Park, just 14 miles north of Milwaukee, attracts visitors with its opportunities for swimming, hiking, picnicking, birding and majestic views of Lake Michigan from the bluffs. Park officials say that neighbors and visitors have expressed a “great desire” to have beach access from the bluff top. Some desire it so much that they have been creating their own trails down to the wide sandy beach, which has increased erosion and caused a public safety issue.

“Besides providing beach access, the pilot project offers a unique opportunity to protect a fragile clay seepage bluff ecosystem that has statewide significance,” said Andrew Struck, director of the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department.

He explained that the county had researched many access options down the bluffs, but these either had significant costs, timelines or impacts on the bluff ecosystem and the park. Then the department hit on the idea of simplifying the process by designing a series of switchback trails and floating staircases that could be “rebuilt” and maintained as the bluff slumped or eroded over time.

When the bluff shifts, the staircases should “float” above the unstable soil without significant damage. The affected section can be releveled and adjusted to fit the changed grade and to fit into the other staircase sections.

“In the event of a catastrophic bluff failure, the entire structure could be moved by hand somewhere else,” Clark said.

Demonstration project construction is planned for summer of 2018. Other parts of the project include the construction of switchback trails and revegetation of the bluff with native trees and shrubs.  Educational signage and a project fact sheet will also be produced.


Dear (Angler) Diary

For the past several years, Titus Seilheimer, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s fisheries outreach specialist, was an avid promoter of the Michigan Sea Grant-based Salmon Ambassadors program, an effort that begin in 2013 to encourage Lake Michigan anglers to record and submit data about the chinook salmon they encountered and caught.

The program was wildly successful at getting hundreds of anglers to track the distribution of wild and stocked salmon in Lake Michigan, largely by identifying the adipose fin clips on stocked fish. But it was also pen-and paper based, a fact that limited its scope and effectiveness in an increasingly mobile-technology dependent world. Earlier this year, Dan O’Keefe, the Michigan Sea Grant extension educator who launched Salmon Ambassadors, rolled out a digital upgrade – the Great Lakes Angler Diary, a mobile- and web-based app that opens up even more avenues for fish-based citizen science.  After emailing the program to  officially register, anglers can log in at  www.GLanglerdiary.org and begin sharing data.

“There’s real interest in this citizen science angle,” said Seilheimer, who’s been explaining and touting the program to the fisheries groups he interacts with in his outreach work in the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. “And there’s some real value to anglers to participate in this.”

The Angler Diary offers several advantage over the old pen and paper model. First and foremost, it opens the door to sharing data about all the Great Lakes sports fish, everything from cisco and trout to lake sturgeon.  It’s also set up to collect a wider range of data, including fish diet. That particular data set can tie into a study Brian Roth, a Michigan State University associate professor, is conducting to gauge the ways invasive species are impacting the diets of sports fish.

“Some of the models of what’s happening in the lake rely on past lake conditions before zebra and quagga mussels arrived, and some of the diet models are 30 years old,” said Seilheimer.

The Angler Diary may help to change that. For their part, Seilheimer said, anglers don’t always trust the results of traditional creel studies conducted by local department of natural resources representatives.

“There’s this sense among some anglers that if we report ourselves, we’ll get better data,” he explained. “This is more of a supplemented piece of data that will fill in the gaps, tell the story.”

Seilheimer will continue to tout the Angler Diary and recruit new contributors at upcoming meetings, including the Federation of Great Lakes Sports Fishing Clubs and the Northeast Wisconsin Great Lakes Sport Fishermen.

“it’s a nice tool to give us something to talk about,” said Seilheimer. “It gets us in the door. People can get ownership of this issue and feel like they’re making a difference.”


The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents