Despite temperatures only reaching a high of the mid-30s on Saturday, Jan. 25, 11 volunteers joined in an effort to clean up the Sugar River Wetlands.

Throughout the year, volunteers of the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association help cut down and pile up invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle, then treat the area with herbicide. They also girdle an invasive clone of the aspen tree, cutting them down gradually over time. This was USRWA’s first monthly “4th Saturday” outdoor volunteer workday of the year.

Executive director of USRWA Wade Moder estimates that the nonprofit organization has had between 200 to 300 unique volunteers attend the workdays since the initiative began in January 2016, providing over 1,000 combined volunteer hours.

The protected area is adjacent to Epic Systems’ campus, is on the west side of Military Ridge State Trail.

The winter months from January through April are the best time for burning these piles of collected brush, as snow helps control the burns, Moder said. And eventually, as the area is restored, it should be possible to see the river from the trail.

In the autumn months, volunteers collect seeds from native plants in the area for replanting.

“To speed up mother nature taking back over,” Moder said.

Moder said that around ten volunteers is typical for one of these workdays and that this month most were regulars. Moder said the “4th Saturdays” are a bonding activity where people can meet and a great way to experience the outdoors.

Volunteer Robyn Weis of Sun Prairie said between all of the DNR’s State Natural Areas Volunteer Program sites, she is outside volunteering almost every weekend.

At the Sugar River Wetlands State Natural Area, she comes to help save a Burr Oak tree she’s affectionately named Clem.

“I do it for Clem,” she said.

The next volunteer day will be held from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Feb. 22.

Neal Patten, Verona Community Reporter, can be contacted at