All posts by Dea Larsen-Converse

A Virtual Tour of Starkweather Creek: Serenity During the Pandemic

On Monday, August 21st, my husband and I paddled Starkweather Creek on the eastside of Madison. The waterway runs through most of the eastside of Madison, through neighborhoods, past a quarry on the east branch, and to the airport on the west branch. A map of the area is included at the end of this article. As an urban stream it has been highly impacted by human development yet it remains a source of serenity for paddlers. We met only one other pair of kayakers enjoying the day. With the dense vegetation on each side of the creek, we felt far removed from the city that surrounded us. On this trip, we visited the east branch of the creek, my favorite.

Passing Olbrich Gardens, we paddled through waters that were cloudy and full of plants.

Image 1: Paddling under the Thai Pavilion Bridge, Olbrich Gardens

The water is high on the creek and at the old railroad bridge, we had to lay flat to get through. This accomplished, we paddled past the Garver property, passing ducks, turtles, and some large fish on the way. I am always surprised by the beauty and quiet in this area.

Image 2: Railroad bridge with a tight fit to get under in the current high water conditions.
Image 3: Paddling past the confluence of the two branches

As we passed the confluence of the two branches, I mused about how the area will change once the city completes its plans for the area. As part of the board for the Friends of Starkweather Creek we meet with the city to learn about their ideas for improving the water quality and planning for street improvements and neighborhood amenities around the creek. From these meetings, I know they want to add another bike path across the creek, improve a vintage bridge near O.B Sherry Park, and put in affordable housing on the farm area off of Milwaukee Street, with another bridge over the creek to accommodate the traffic. I can’t help but wonder how that will impact this remnant of the wild that I love to visit.

As we approached the Milwaukee Street Bridge, my husband wondered about our location and I pointed out the Seversin parking lot that backs up very close to the creek. We hooted as we passed under the bridge and entered the magical area near the Voit property and quarry.

Image 4: The East Branch of Starkweather Creek

Houses line the north side of the creek, some with small access areas and boats. The south side is occupied by the quarry, with heavy machinery sitting silent on the banks. This is the area where the city has plans to put in another bridge to connect to the future housing project. Recently this was also a site where the city wanted to purchase property and locate a stormwater treatment system in the Voit Pond. This would have opened the door to restoring the wetlands on the Voit property and a bike path connection. Those plans were put on hold by the Mayor’s office.

As we enter the East Branch, this is where the water changes. The springs in the area push clear water into the creek and we spent time watching the small fish dancing around the dense vegetation growing from the bottom. Soon, our forward momentum was blocked by a downed tree. We took a moment in this quiet spot listening to the birds and trying to find fish in the depths. On our journey back to the dock, we were paddling with the current and met the only other people on the creek, a couple of women in kayaks. We also saw a blue heron hiding in the vegetation along the Garver property and more turtles enjoying the sun.

Image 5: Machines parked on the Voit property
Image 6: No trespassing sign on an inlet that leads to the Voit Pond.
Image 7: Clear water entering the creek from springs.
Image 8: East Branch of Starkweather Creek near the Voit Property, a refuge for green herons, blue herons, ducks, turtles, and lots of fish.
Image 9: Ducks occupy the downed tree that blocks the East Branch of the Creek.
Image 10: Railroad cars parked on a track near the East Branch of the creek.
Image 11: Taking a moment to enjoy the quiet.
Image 12: Quiet area on the East Branch of Starkweather Creek.
Image 13: Clear water coming up through dense vegetation.
Image 14: Paddling back to Olbrich Gardens boat launch
Image 15: A turtle enjoying the sunny day near the Garver property
Image 16: Blue heron near the Garver property

It was good to get out of the house and feel connected to the natural world. It has been a long time since the stay at home orders commenced and our normal lives were disrupted. A bit of nature helped calm our souls.

Image 17: Starkweather Creek

Annual Meeting Announcement

Friends of Starkweather Creek Annual Meeting

Healing & Honoring our People & Place

  • History in the watershed: Missy Tracy, Ho-Chunk Nation
  • Friends of Starkweather mission, vision, values and report
  • New board elections – All are welcome to join our board
  • New input: What do YOU want or envision?

Goodman Community Center, Brassworks Building, 214 Waubesa Street, October 23, 7:00 p.m.

For up to date information visit our Facebook page


December Board Meeting Minutes

Friends of Starkweather Creek

Board Meeting


Meeting notes


Parks Report – Deborah is completing the report to Parks. Last piece that is needed is a survey of the group to see if anyone used the canoes for personal use. No one except Carl and he emailed Deborah already.


Solstice Celebration – Event starts at 4:00 with drummers. Parking at Olbrich Gardens is allowed. Fire will be lit at 4:30. Lance and Doug will be there early.


Miles Varna Contact – wants to volunteer to do some GIS mapping. Contacted us through facebook. Lance will follow up with him.


Revolution Cycle Meeting – Art event last Friday night. FSC received $50 in donations at the event. Good partner group. Opportunity to partner on extending the bike path to Sun Prairie. Need more representation at their meetings. is leading the charge. Jeff at Revolution is the contact. Dave will set up a meet up.


2018 Madison FUN Calendar and Events – Paul passed out a 2018 draft events list. Good year last year with lots of events.


2018 Events are at

Starkweather Outings (Draft)

January 20 – Deborah Crabtree – sledding and hot chocolate

February 17 –

March 17 – Jeff Steele: Spring Phenology Signs

April 21 –

May 19 – Jeff Steele: Woodland Ephemerals

June 16 – Tom Murn: Nature Lives in the City

July 21 – Lance Green: Monitoring the Creek & Critter Viewings

August 18 – Biking the creek

September 15 – Carl Landsness: Canoeing Starkweather

October 20 – Tom Murn: Autumn Traces of Nature

November 17 –

December 15 –


Treasurer Report:

$1,000 Annual meeting

$     50 Revolution Cycles

$ 160 Mailing

$   60 renewals

$1,270 Total


2018 Meeting Dates: keep the third Tuesday. Lance will book the Goodman Center.


Darbo-Worthington Proposed Canoe Access – $35,000 is available build canoe/kayak access for the neighborhood. Marsha Rummel requested a letter from our group to the Mayor to say how good this would be for the neighborhood. Lance will write a letter in support of a canoe launch. Carl will think about setting up a meeting with the neighborhood.


Garver Construction – access to the creek during construction. Last nature outing was forced out into the wetlands. Carl will reach out to the project manager for Baum and take a walk to see where the access is blocked. Lance will put it on the agenda for the meeting with the city.


Spring Planting Project – Feb 1st application deadline to get native plants for our plantings. Pictures need to be taken. More plants are needed where the fall planting happened in 2017. Early January subgroup should get together to decide on sites. Jeff, Dave, Deborah, and Carl want to be on the subgroup. Jeff is on the Eken Park Neighborhood Association and will approach that group to see if we can do a joint planting.


Meeting adjourned at 8:27


Friends of Starkweather Creek

2017 Annual Meeting

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Come Hear about FUN and SCIENCE on Starkweather Creek!

Goodman Community Center
149 Waubesa St, Madison

Co-Chair Dea Larsen-Converse will present our past year’s activities

Co-Chair Lance Green will present on the creek’s health

We will elect board members

All are welcome to help plan and direct our next year’s actions

Drinks and refreshments for all!

Thanks for your support!

Here’s video taste of our adventures this year:

Paddling Adventures

FreshWater Engineering Report on Starkweather Creek

Friends of Starkweather Creek is proud to have worked with the City of Madison Engineering and FreshWater Engineering to produce an updated report on sampling for toxicities on the creek.

Here is a link to the draft report. Draft Final Semipermeable Membrane
Device (SPMD) Water Quality Sampling Study of Starkweather Creek

The original sampling for the Water Resources Management report, Starkweather Creek Watershed: Current Conditions and Improvement Strategies in an Urban Context, showed the worst water quality in a golf course ditch and a site immediately downstream of the airport. The third most toxic location after the ditch and airport was a site near Milwaukee Street.

The updated sampling compared the 2005 study to the current 2016 study and found that “water quality has improved in all sampling site locations except for the “East Towne Mall” location. Considering toxicity, the primary area of concern is the “Golf Course Ditch” location. This is by far the area where the water quality is the worst. This water within the creek throughout this reach is standing water during base conditions with little to no flow. The airport is also a concern for pollution as the results show that between the above and below airport testing sites, there is a 55% light reduction over approximately 3.5 miles of creek length. The land adjacent to this length of creek is owned and operated by the Dane County Regional Airport and though it’s still in poor condition compared to the rest of the creek, this reach has shown improvement since the 2005 study.

Interest in the Kipp Corporation’s effluent discharging into Starkweather Creek was brought up as a potential source of contamination to the creek…. However, from the background research that was reviewed and the results of the SPMD analysis, there is no noticeable increase in (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) PAHs downstream of the Kipp Corporation. Sample analysis indicates, the Kipp Corporation effluent does not decrease the water quality in Starkweather Creek or contribute additional PAHs to the waterbody.”

We will post the final report when it is ready.