A City Reconnects to its River

Project Summary: Stabilizing the river banks, removing invasive species, installing rain gardens and adding a park along the Root River has improved the health of the river, while providing public access.

Project Name: Restoring the Urban Root River

Location: Racine, Wisconsin

Description: The Root River runs through the town of Racine, Wis., into Lake Michigan, and for the early life of the town the river was used by industry, heavily developed, and its water quality

A view of the Root River marina looking towards Racine and Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Root River Council.

A view of the Root River marina looking towards Racine and Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Root River Council.

degraded. With the decline of the industrial economy, the town has reimagined its relationship with the river. Newly added green spaces and parks on either side of the river allow the public to enjoy the space, provide habitat for wildlife, and stabilize the riverbanks to prevent erosion. Thick grasses on either side of the riverbank prevent the aggressive colonization of geese. Waterfront property that currently consists of brownfield sites or abandoned industrial buildings will be actively redeveloped with the hopes of increasing community enjoyment of and involvement in the river. With more people appreciating and benefitting from the river, the Root River Council hopes there will be an increased understanding of the importance of keeping the river healthy. Future goals include installing more rain gardens,

A couple enjoys kayaking down the Root River as a train uses the trestle to cross into town. Photo courtesy of the Root River Council.

A couple enjoys kayaking down the Root River as a train uses the trestle to cross into town. Photo courtesy of the Root River Council.

permeable pavement, green rooftops, and rain barrels.

Approximate Cost of the Project: $3,500,000

Resource Challenges Addressed: Lack of access to the river, unused industrial buildings, degraded nearshore habitat

Key Partners (Public and Private): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, City of Racine Community Development Block Grants, S.C. Johnson Fund, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Types of Jobs Created: Construction workers, park designers, heavy equipment operators, engineers, and general laborers

Results and Accomplishments: The health of the Root River has been improved by removing invasive species, installing rain gardens, and plantings that prevent erosion. Buckthorn and non-native honeysuckle used to line the riverbanks, doing very little to stop erosion. These species were removed and native plants were used to stabilize the riverbank. Holding ponds and basins have been installed beside the river to slow runoff and filter out sediment before the water makes its way into the main channel. Both of these changes have improved water quality. The rain gardens that are currently installed around the city also contribute to water quality by slowing the rate at which water enters the river and allowing plants to absorb some of the excess nutrients in the stormwater that would otherwise cause algal blooms in the water. In the future the community hopes to focus on repurposing old industrial buildings to keep up the momentum that is bringing the city of Racine back to its river.

Website: http://rootrivercouncil.org/

Originally Published: August 30, 2013

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