A Voice for the River

South Shore Railroad Grade

This past summer, BRP once again sponsored an event to bring together a host of government agencies and local organizations who have strong interests in preserving the river. The Brule River Coalition was formed a few years ago as a forum to share management programs and research projects to insure everyone communicates and knows of each other's interests.

In the process, we identified one of most serious threats to the river....the potential collapse of the abandoned South Shore Railroad Grade over Nebagamon Creek. The former travel route, via rail used by visitors in the 1880's to the Winneboujou Station has been slowly deteriorating over the past 100 years. Should the culvert and embankment collapse it would severely impact the spawning and fisheries to the Nebagamon Creek, Brule, various tributaries and eventually, Lake Superior. Therefore, with the help of the DNR a plan is being developed to eliminate the railroad grade and culvert to insure silt and sedimentation does enter the waterway.

Prior to the earth work, we will prepare the site by surveying and staking the property lines, installing erosion controls such as silt fences, and installing construction fencing and signage. Initial earth work will consist of removing trees along the grade’s slopes. We will then excavate approximately 30,000 cubic yards of fill material (generally sand, gravel, and clay), generally from east to west. DNR operations personnel from the Spooner office will operate either rented or DNR-owned heavy equipment, including an excavator, tracked dump truck, and a bulldozer. I will be talking with the crew soon to plan the actual sequence. The fill material will either be transported to and used on nearby road surfaces, placed in area gravel pits, or disposed of in other local upland areas. I am still working on procuring large dump trucks to transport the material off-site.

After removing most of the fill material, we will excavate a new stream channel several feet to the east of the existing channel. This will be done in the dry and will include placing in-channel grade controls such as cobble/boulder riffles to minimize upstream headcutting. Once we complete the new channel, we will divert the stream into the new channel and allow the existing channel to run dry, after which we will remove the remaining fill and concrete culvert and wingwalls. Working in the dry in the new and old channels will minimize sediment runoff from the site. The site will be seeded and planted with trees after completing the earth work. We are also working with DNR Wildlife to plan conservation/protection strategies for Wood Turtles.

Click on any image below to view gallery and description of each picture.

Abandoned Railroad Grade Culvert Collapse on Nebagamon Creek
Severe longstanding threat to the health Bois Brule River fishery resource

  • The South Shore Railroad abandoned operation in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s
  • Nebagamon Creek passes through a concrete culvert at this rail grade at Longitude 46 degrees 31 minutes and 31.7496 seconds and Latitude -91 degrees 39 minutes and 18.7580 seconds
  • In the late Fall of 2009, a local resident of the area noted that the downstream concrete wing-walls had collapsed into the stream, backing up water for a considerable distance upstream.
  • He contacted DNR fisheries staff and a biologist visited the site to document the concern.
  • Fisheries staff photographed the scene and reported this issue to the local DNR water regulatory specialist
  • Photos attached below –in the first photo note the very high grade and the collapsed wing-walls with grade erosion beginning to take place, second photo shows a close-up of the wing-walls lying in the outflow, and the third photo showing the upstream end of the culvert with backed up water reducing the flow capacity of the culvert by about one-half
  • Although this issue was first noted in 2009, it has been brought to our attention that nothing has been resolved to this date, five years later
  • The holdup in resolving this issue as we have been told by the local DNR staff has been discovering a responsible party or landowner of the portion of the abandoned grade at the Nebagamon Creek crossing.
  • Action needs to be taken as soon as possible before the following scenario is expected to happen:

1 Culvert collapses or is completely blocked

1 Nebagamon creek which drains about 28 square miles and carries on average about 16 cubic feet of water second will back up very quickly

1 The grade will then act as a dam and fill the entire valley upstream to a point where either the grade collapses or eventually overtops and washes it away

The extent of the threat to the Bois Brule will depend how much water is impounded upstream and how quickly that impounded water washes away the grade

1 That catastrophic failure will create the largest flood that the Nebagamon Creek valley has ever experienced

1 The flood will quickly erode a larger stream channel by washing away the sand laden stream banks and at many points along the way from there to the Brule will cause severe erosion and collapse of the sandy valley walls

1 The flood will wash away the Afterhours road crossing

Besides the water volume dumping into the Bois Brule an even larger concern is the huge volume of sand that will create an extremely large sand slug

1  This sand slug will be a major threat to the trout fishery of the Brule as it slowly creeps downstream

1 This sand slug may take decades to move down the river before it reaches Lake Superior 1 As the sand slug moves it will fill holes, cause channel widening(bank erosion) and sequentially bury trout habitat and destroy spawning areas

1 The trout population of Wisconsin’s premier trout stream will be severely reduced until sand slug moves out of the Bois Brule

This potential threat must be eliminated as soon as possible! We suspect that if a landowner or responsible party has not been discovered in five years that we may need to take action in other ways.

  • We may need to seek private or state funding to remove the grade
  • The Brule Sportsmen’s Club at the October 27th, 2014 meeting moved to seek immediate attention to this Bois Brule River fishery threat.