A. Comply with Wisconsin's "Smart Growth" law for land use planning and resource management. This criterion is an option only for applications submitted before July 1, 2017.
The City of Alma is committed to Wisconsin's "Smart Growth" law for land use planning and resource management. This is easier for our community to accomplish than most because we are a narrow 3-mile strip of land located between the Mississippi River and the towering bluffs of the Driftless Area.
G. Document that there is a segment of the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail or a designated Important Bird Area within or adjacent to your community.
GREAT WISCONSIN BIRDING & NATURE TRAIL (Mississippi/Chippewa Rivers Region)
Please refer to Pages 8, 9 & 10 of this publication. Both city parks (Buena Vista Park & Rieck’s Lake Park) are included in the recognized birding assets in this Wisconsin state publication.
WISCONSIN IMPORTANT BIRD AREA
As part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, the Mississippi River shoreline in Alma, Wisconsin is part of this designated area.
WETLAND OF INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE / GLOBALLY IMPORTANT BIRD AREA
In 2010 the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge was designated as a Wetland of International Importance by RAMSAR and a Globally Important Bird Area. As part of the Refuge, the Mississippi River shoreline in Alma, Wisconsin is part of this designated area.
H. Show that the local Chamber of Commerce or a similar group (e.g., an Audubon chapter, Wild Ones, etc.) takes an active role in the planning process for protecting and enlarging favorable bird habitat.
Both the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center have taken strides to promote & protect favorable bird habitat through social media & website information. These long-standing community organizations are important to the role of educating the public and promoting our abundant natural surroundings and opportunities for viewing and appreciating wildlife.
The Chamber’s Visitor Center is hosted at the Wings Over Alma Nature Center on Main Street and visitors to the area are immediately immersed in the importance of our area from a nature perspective. Information is available on activities, events and resources for birding.
Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center provides the community and visitors with a view of the Mississippi River, backwater islands, Lock & Dam #4 and the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. In addition they sponsor a monthly nature talk on various subjects that inform our citizens and visitors to our community on the importance of our abundant natural surroundings and birding opportunities. They are especially known for Bald Eagle viewing during the winter months.
A National Scenic Byway (NSB) Project at Rieck’s Lake Park provides multiple viewing decks with scopes and programs to promote the important role our area holds in the spring and fall migration along the Mississippi Flyway. Working with the NSB, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge and Wisconsin DNR, the City of Alma, Wisconsin completed this project with several Interpretive Panels providing information to visitors. The small city campground at Rieck’s Lake Park is overflowing during spring & fall migration months with bird watchers.
I. Document a recent project that created or restored bird habitat in your community. (Exclusions: Bird feeders and small-scale artificial nesting structures)
Dairyland Power's Peregrine Falcon Restoration Program, working with Bob Anderson of the Raptor Resource Project, began in Alma in the 1990s. Anderson had researched falcon activity in western Wisconsin and knew, although they migrated through the area, falcons had not been successful establishing nesting sites at any of their typical dwellings on the cliffs overlooking the Upper Mississippi River. He believed the raptors would visit the stacks (which are several hundred feet high) at one of Dairyland’s power plants, located between high bluffs and the Mississippi River … the perfect spot for a falcon family. Anderson speculated the raptors might find a nest box high on one of the stacks an appealing place to call home. Dairyland management was enthusiastic and a raptor neighborhood was born. The first falcon nest box was established in Alma in 1994 and on Earth Day 1997 the first pair of breeding peregrine falcons moved in, raising 3 chicks. The nest box was remodeled in 1991 to provide more perch space.
Dairyland decommissioned & demolished one of its two power plants in Alma in 2017 and this smokestack in 2018. However, before demolition they moved the falcon nest box to the remaining smokestack, keeping this project alive with the continued protection of the peregrine falcon. Not only do the falcons use the nest box, they have successfully moved into the neighboring bluff returning to a natural nesting habitat.
There was no place in the renewal application to discuss Cliff Swallows and because they are cousins to the Chimney Swifts we offer this information. With the demolition of one of Dairyland Power's coal-fired plants in Alma, the local population of Cliff Swallows had to relocate. In 2018 they naturally migrated to Main Street Alma and we enjoyed their nest building under the eaves of our historic buildings all summer long. This event was unexpected. In 2019 they returned but their numbers were reduced. The location is perfect, the feeding resources are abundant with the Mississippi River and its backwaters across the street.
Big River Magazine highlighted this phenomenon in their 2018 September-October issue.
U. Show that your community maximizes the value of right-of-way space (e.g., power lines, pipelines, etc.) by planting them with native grasses, shrubs, herbs, and other prairie/grassland plants.
In 2017 the CapX2020 utility program was completed, clearing a wide swath of cleared land below 150-foot electrical power towers from Alma and onward to points East. As a result of that program, the Flyway Trail Project began. Headquartered in Alma, this community-driven nonprofit holds the promise of a 50-mile trail along Wisconsin’s spectacular Mississippi River coast, giving hikers and bikers from throughout the Midwest the opportunity to enjoy and explore the river and its bluffs. When complete, this trail will provide recreation for its users, habitat for birds & wildlife, and spearhead economic development for the area. Linking to Minnesota at Winona and Wabasha, the Flyway Trail also opens the way for interstate access. Connection to the existing Great River State Trail at Marshland opens access to the Great River State Trail and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
Funding was secured to complete the massive feasibility study, plan the trail location running mostly under the CapX2020 power lines and acquire land rights. In 2019 the Winona Connector began, connecting the Great River State Trail that ends in Marshland to Winona MN across the remnants of the historic Wagon Bridge. An initial step to this project is an expansive walking/riding bridge over the railroad tracks. A capital campaign to raise funding is currently in progress, "Bridging The Bluffs". It is expected that the Winona Connector project will be completed in 2020 with building of the main trail from Alma to the Winona Connector to follow.
V. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.
Flyway Film Festival opened in Alma, Wisconsin in 2017. This independent film festival is headquartered in Pepin, Wisconsin but they added the Big River Theatre in Alma as an additional venue. The Festival is firmly committed to promotion of the Mississippi Flyway, as shown in many of their event posters. Called one of Moviemaker Magazine's 25 coolest film festivals in the world, this independent film festival on the shores of the Mississippi River is entering its 14th season. The festival’s name comes from its location on the Mississippi River Flyway, the longest bird migration corridor in the Western Hemisphere. That's why it's "flyway," see, not "fly away."
Community Forest Management
B. Implement a municipal moratorium on the trimming of trees and shrubs and the mowing of ditches, storm water retention basins, and other grasslands from May 15 to July 15 to prevent the destruction of active bird nests. (Exceptions: Invasive species control and public safety)
CITY OF ALMA PARKS & HIKING TRAILS
Trees were reported to have been sparse on the bluffs during Alma's 19th century development, partly because the Indians were reputed to set the slopes on fire each year to encourage the growth of grasses favored by wild game. Also, woodcutters employed in gathering fuel for steamboats in the town's early years cut what trees they could find close at hand. It was not until the 1880's that the familiar wooded slopes began to show in period photographs. Today this change has resulted in a profuse growth of trees on Alma’s bluff faces.
The City sponsors four areas where birding activities and preservation of community forest are managed. All of these parks and trails are actively managed by the City of Alma.
BUENA VISTA PARK, OVERLOOK & HIKING TRAIL: Buena Vista Park was presented to the City of Alma by the Ganz/McClyman family and has been actively managed by the City of Alma since the 1930s. The city is responsible for all forest management in the park and along the trail. This park & trail are identified as an asset in the Buffalo County Outdoor Recreation Plan (2016-2020).
MOSSY HOLLOW TRAILS: Mossy Hollow’s three hiking trails have been actively managed by the City of Alma since 1997. The City is responsible for all forest management and maintains the hiking trails. Recently Dairyland Power assisted by clearing out the area below their power line run for improved access to the acreage of Mossy Hollow. This trail is identified as an asset in the Buffalo County Outdoor Recreation Plan (2016-2020).
RIECK'S LAKE STATE PARK, VIEWING AREA & CAMPGROUND: This park has been actively managed by the City of Alma since the early 1930s. The City is responsible for all forest management at Rieck’s Lake Park. Several trees in this park have been inventoried and identified with a plaque for visitor education. This park & trail are identified as an asset in the Buffalo County Outdoor Recreation Plan (2016-2020).
ALMA CITY MARINA & RECREATION COMPLEX: This park has been actively managed by the City of Alma since the 1960s. The City is responsible for all forest management within the park. This park is identified as an asset in the Buffalo County Outdoor Recreation Plan (2016-2020).
WISCONSIN WETLAND GEMS
As part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, the Mississippi River shoreline and its confluence with the Buffalo River in Alma are designated as a Wisconsin Wetland Gem. The Mississippi River corridor’s complex structure of islands, braided channels, oxbows and sloughs includes protected floodplain forest and marshes. This site is best known for wildlife habitat values. The Refuge protects a significant portion of the Mississippi Flyway, which is used during migration by 40% of waterfowl in the U.S. Other wildlife includes about 300 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and 14 species of amphibians. The City of Alma is responsible for management of their city parks within this area, including forest management.
Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds
A. Describe your community’s educational program to control free-roaming cats and/or the manner in which you actively publicize the Cats Indoors! initiative.
The City of Alma Ordinance 97.01 does not allow free-roaming cats or dogs. In addition, the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce website provides a link to “Cat Indoors” by American Bird Conservancy as a tool for cat owners. This web link is shared annually on the Alma Facebook page as a public education outreach.
B. Demonstrate that your community provides property owners with information on how to protect birds from window strikes (e.g., online links, brochures).
The Alma Area Chamber of Commerce website provides a link to “why birds hit windows” through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and how to distract them from this behavior. This web link is shared annually on the Alma Facebook page as a public education outreach.
B. Provide web links or a community newsletter demonstrating that your community educates property owners on methods to create and enhance backyard habitat for birds.
The Alma Area Chamber of Commerce website provides a link to “how to create a bird friendly yard” through the Audubon Society and “backyard birding” through the US Fish & Wild Life Service, National Refuge System.
The Alma Area Chamber of Commerce website provides a link to several bird monitoring & bird count programs. This web links is shared annually on the Alma Facebook page as a public education outreach.
Great Backyard Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count
Swift Night Out
In addition, the Alma Area supports the efforts of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota (across the Mississippi River from Alma, Wisconsin) in two bird counts/surveys:
WEEKLY BALD EAGLE COUNTS DURING WINTER MIGRATION: Every week from November through April, citizens of the City of Alma participate in counting the bald eagle population present along the Mississippi River corridor in Alma, Wisconsin. Participants learn about favorite bald eagle habitat, feeding patterns, weather impacts, open water needs and food sources during the winter season. Count information is published weekly on our website and also shared with the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota for publication in their Winter Bald Eagle Counts. During the 2016-2017 season, this count was taken every Monday for 21 weeks. Photographers are also out capturing great birding pictures that are shared through social media on the Chamber’s Facebook site and website. Pictures are also shared with Wings Over Alma for publication on their website.
GOLDEN EAGLE PROJECT l ANNUAL GOLDEN EAGLE SURVEY: Local citizens of the City of Alma participate with the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota in the Golden Eagle Project and its impact on Western Wisconsin. There is an annual survey and we even participated in a golden eagle release in 2009 on the bluff above Alma, Wisconsin. Goal of the project is to learn more about golden eagles, their breeding origins, migration patterns, habitat needs & prey requirement in our local area. Conservation of critical habitats in the bluff lands regions is encouraged. Our region & Buffalo County are primary golden eagle habitats noted in this annual survey.
D. Describe your community-sponsored annual bird festival. This must be a multi-day event or a truly exceptional one-day event.
Eagles on Ice is held every January by the Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center and will be celebrating its 13th year in 2020. The Center was initially named for the Bald Eagles flying over Main Street Alma and this event celebrates their importance to our community. In the winter Bald Eagles are attracted by the open waters below Lock & Dam #4 and we host dozens of Bald Eagles who migrate from Canada. Activities are held throughout the day as the Center builds awareness of the Bald Eagles wintering population.
Birding by Mini Train is held twice a year with two trips during spring migration and one trip during fall migration by the Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center. It features birding guides and habitat for exploration by approximately 160 participants with migration activity taking place along The Mississippi Flyway. The event is held on a mini-train through the Tiffany Bottoms State Nature Area along the Chippewa River.
Great River Birding Month was held in 2017 & 2018 the entire month of May. Each storefront on Main Street in Alma, Wisconsin adopted & featured a migratory bird. The Alma Area Chamber of Commerce provided a Birding Information Sheet for each bird that will be displayed and available to visitors to Alma throughout the month. Community businesses hosted live music, showed films and decorated Main Street with 20 bird house displays promoting Alma, Wisconsin as a stopover point for spring migration along the Mississippi Flyway.
For 2019 the event was focused on World Migratory Bird Day with less emphasis on promoting the entire month. Theme for the year was "Bird Is The Word". The 2020 theme has yet to be set.
Flyway Film Festival is held in October each year and Alma participates as one of their movie viewing sites. This is becoming a great opportunity to promote and educate participants about the Mississippi Flyway and fall migration. We intend to continue to associate the Mississippi Flyway and fall bird migration to the Flyway Film Festival in 2020.
E. Illustrate a program that involves schools, garden clubs, or other organizations in bird conservation activities.
Discover Wisconsin produced a program in 2010 called “Birding in Wisconsin”. Alma, Wisconsin was one of three Wisconsin “Birding Hot Spots” featured. Its purpose was to promote the importance of birding in Alma, Wisconsin (especially Bald Eagles) and the resources available to birding enthusiasts. This program is still actively promoted on the Alma Chamber website and by Discover Wisconsin. Volunteers from three community organizations (Alma Area Chamber of Commerce, Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center and the City of Alma) sponsored this program, wrote and were filmed as part of the film’s narration and actively participated in its production.
Tundra Swan Watch is a citizen group that staffs the viewing deck at Rieck’s Lake Park in Alma, Wisconsin during the Tundra Swan migration season. Along with Wings Over Alma, they were important in obtaining the National Scenic Byway grant to design & build interpretive panels on bird migration as well as the two Rieck’s Lake Park Observation Decks. Once, as many as 6,000 tundra swans came to Rieck’s Lake but river sediment filled the slough, accelerated by floods, and their favorite tubers largely were replaced by burr reeds. Today there are a handful of tundra swans during spring and fall migration, there is little need for the volunteers to staff the viewing decks but you can still find them talking about migration along the Mississippi Flyway and the glory days of tundra swans in Alma, Wisconsin.
Peregrine Falcon Restoration Program, sponsored by Dairyland Power Cooperative and the Raptor Resource Project, has had wild success. Research on falcon activity in western Wisconsin revealed that the Peregrine Falcons migrated through the area but had not been successful in establishing nesting sites. It was noted that the raptors would visit the stacks at one of Dairyland’s power plants in Alma. Located between high bluffs and the Mississippi River, the stacks were a perfect spot for falcons. In March of 1994 a nesting box was installed at a port 450 feet up the stack at the Alma Generating Station. The box was created by area high school students as a science project. In 1997 two birds nesting in the box produced three offspring, the first successful wild hatch of Peregrine Falcons in Western Wisconsin in 25 years. Today the program is considered one of the most successful of its kind because the falcons have moved from the nesting box on the stack and established natural nesting sites on the bluff sides above Alma. This program has been part of the monthly Nature Talks at Wings Over Alma as a continuing education effort.
Enhance Alma is a volunteer organization that plans & implements projects and installs & maintains garden plantings throughout the City of Alma. Many of the street gardens and pocket-garden plantings include bird-friendly species. Sidewalk flower boxes are also planted each year and we see hummingbirds frequently visiting these public planting spaces.
Alma Rod & Gun Club hosts an annual program on Buffalo County Prairie Management in March each year. All parties interested in prairie restoration and management are invited to attend to learn about or be updated on the status of the area’s prairie restoration. Discussion includes management techniques and highlight native plants, birds, animals, and insects that have been identified on the local prairie properties. Landowners participating in prairie restoration in Buffalo County have also been part of the Nature Talks sponsored by Wings Over Alma as a continuing education effort.
Buffalo County Land & Trails Trust, Inc. | Flyway Trail is a planned paved multi-use recreational trail project will run along the western shore of the Mississippi River in Buffalo County between the bridge to Winona, MN and Nelson, WI. This project began in 2014 and is expected to be completed within 10 years. Habitat and birding resources are an important component of this project.
The Great River Trails Program, initiated in the 1970s, includes the Winona to Nelson stretch as part of the Master Trail Plan. The Great River State Trail currently ends at Bluff Siding WI at the edge of the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
A linking trail, the Great River State Trail Winona Connector Project, was approved and work has begun connecting the Great River State Trail to a crossover point to Winona MN. The initial step is building a major bridge over the railroad tracks.
The Flyway Trail will start at this link point and continue to Nelson WI, passing directly through the City of Alma. Land acquisition is currently in process and construction will begin on the first trail section at Alma, WI over the next two years. Flyway Trail has opened an office at 111 Main Street, Alma, WI to build public awareness and for education purposes.
Shawnee Estates is a City of Alma development area offering a broad valley and bordering habitat within the City. Originally this area was zoned to promote housing development but only one house was ever built. The City of Alma owns this natural site and is considering options on future development including trails.
Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center opened in 2007 and hosts thousands of visitors annually. It's unusual for a Nature Center to be located within an urban area, right on Main Street. They are open daily. The Center offers an outdoor viewing deck overlooking the Mississippi River and is equipped with spotting scopes and binoculars to view a variety of wildlife year-round. The Mississippi Flyway brings thousands of migrating birds past the Center. During the winter months, hundreds of bald eagles can be viewed from the deck, feeding in the open water below Lock and Dam #4. Wings Over Alma overlooks the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge.
In January each year Wings Over Alma hosts Eagles on Ice providing a day of learning about the bald eagles in Alma and the migrating population that settle in for the winter from Canada. This is a great outreach program with strong community participation every year.
In April each year the Elementary School Classes from the Alma Area School visit Wings Over Alma. They learn about the Nature Center, learn how to view birds through the scopes from the viewing deck and are exposed to the importance of the birds in their backyard, Alma’s important habitat and migration along the Mississippi Flyway.
Since 2010, Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center has offered Nature Talks to the public. Birding Topics have included:
How To Build A Bluebird House
Backyard Birding (also included children’s participation in making a peanut butter log)
Bird Banding, A Useful Tool In Studying Birds (also included field work at Rieck’s Lake Park)
Raptors From The Area (live bird presentation with a falcon, an osprey and a bald eagle)
Bald Eagle Visitation from the National Eagle Center (with a live bald eagle)
Night Time Bat Walk: Discovering Alma’s Bat Population
Tundra Swans & Their Migration Through Alma
Mill Creek Road: Discover The Birds Hiking From Buena Vista To Mill Creek
Discover Wisconsin: Birding Hot Spot In Alma, Wisconsin
Birding By Paddle, Swifts Under The Bridges (a canoe/kayak trip under the Buffalo River bridge and through Beef Slough)
Buena Vista Trail: Hiking From The Bluff To Main Street
Peregrine Falcons Nesting On The Dairyland Stack, Now On The Bluffs
Alma Is A Stopover On The Mississippi Flyway
Winter Bird Feeding: Feeders, Eating Habits & What To Feed
How To Photograph Birds
Watching Warblers In Mossy Hollow
Bluff Prairies: Native Habitat Restoration In Western Wisconsin
What’s Nesting in Your Backyard?
Bird City Wisconsin: Why Participation Is Important
Flyway Trail: Multi-Use Recreational Trail Coming To Buffalo County
Buffalo County Birding – The Importance Of Native Habitat
River Raptors – Meet Live Birds Of Prey
G. Provide a link to your community’s Bird City Wisconsin webpage, which must be visible from the main page of your municipal website (it may be located at the first level of a drop down menu on the main page but cannot be any less visible) OR demonstrate that your Bird City effort has a significant social media presence.
I. Show that your municipality promotes and supports a bird club or other environmentally/ecologically-minded club. (Exclusions: Garden clubs, unless you demonstrate a strong focus on native plants)
Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center is a member-driven volunteer nonprofit organization located on Main Street in Alma, Wisconsin. This community organization seeks to enhance and promote awareness of the Upper Mississippi River environment as well as raise the level of regional arts and crafts appreciation. Website: http://www.wingsoveralma.org/
K. Demonstrate that your community actively raises awareness of its bird assets. Examples include placing a remote web camera on a nest platform, offering bird watching field trips, or creating a significant educational resource on your community's bird life.
In the spring and the fall, Wings Over Alma hosts “Birding by Mini Train” and takes 50+ participants on a mini-train ride through Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area. Volunteers from Wings Over Alma are available to help participants in spotting birds, offering information on the habitat in Tiffany Bottoms and pointing out birding “hot spots” along the route. Participants are led through 3 stop-off points to walk through prairies, riverside habitat and natural forest areas. Birding experts from the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin DNR staff and USFWS staff are included on these trips.
Energy & Sustainability
B. Show that your community goes above and beyond in its support for, and implementation of, green transportation (e.g., bike trails, rideshare programs, bike trails/lanes, etc.). Be sure to utilize the narrative to illustrate why your community is exceptional because standard practice will not receive credit.
Referring you back to the prior narrative on the Flyway Trail, establishing a 50-mile multi-use trail that will run the entire western perimeter of Buffalo County, Wisconsin is a major endeavor. This project was born in Alma, Wisconsin and is headquartered on Main Street.
The City of Alma Resolution recognizing World Migratory Bird Day will officially adopted by motion with a passing vote by the Common Council of the City of Alma in March 2020. See our prior narrative on the celebration of "Birds The Word" on our designated World Migratory Bird Day.