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Badertscher Preserve at Sunset

Badertscher Preserve in Muskego: A Hidden Gem

January 24, 2022  |  Topics: Places

By Eddee Daniel

Perhaps it was the way I described the place, as a hidden gem with trails covering a diverse terrain containing a remarkable variety of habitats. Perhaps it was just the desire to get outdoors in mid-January with like-minded enthusiasts. Whatever the reason, the hike at Badertscher Preserve I advertised through my Urban Wilderness Explorers group on turned out to be so popular I ended up offering it twice for the overflow, something I hadn’t previously done. Temperatures hovering around 13 degrees on the day of the second hike trimmed the numbers, but those who braved it were duly enthralled and the two-hour hike around the circumference of the preserve was strenuous enough to keep our blood flowing.

While I don’t go there often, I have managed to get to Badertscher in every season over the past few years. I can testify that it is enchanting no matter what the season. But winter is a particularly good time to visit because the “diverse terrain” includes several wetland areas that, in my limited experience, tend to be beyond muddy. Standing water has on more than one occasion prompted me to pop on the Wellingtons I keep in my car in order to keep my feet dry on the trail. But, as you will see from this photo essay, the place is worth the effort.

Jared and Jeff wading in a wetland meadow hunting for snakes.
Jared and Jeff wading in a wetland meadow hunting for snakes.

One of the first things you see once you set out on the trail from the parking area is a modest hill bristling with mature oak trees. As you walk up into them you may notice the relatively open understory. You are in one of the rarest of ecosystems in the country, a 12-acre remnant oak savanna. This majestic landscape of mature trees surrounded by open prairie once covered 50 million acres in a swath stretching from Canada to Texas. Sadly, only about .02% remains in isolated patches like this one, due to clearing for agriculture and the suppression of fires that are necessary in order to maintain the ecosystem. Aggressive maintenance and the occasional controlled burn will be required to keep this hilltop haven in its current magnificent state.

Scott and Lauralyn in the oak savanna.
Scott and Lauralyn in the oak savanna.
Birch grove.
Birch grove.
The Urban Wilderness Exporers, group 1, in the oak savanna.
The Urban Wilderness Exporers, group 1, in the oak savanna.

Later in our hikes we passed through another woodland that had only recently been cleared of undergrowth (above). Serendipitously, I had chanced upon those responsible on a scouting expedition the week prior to the first Meetup hike. Kettle Moraine Land Stewards, hired by the City, were out cutting the invasive species, largely buckthorn and honeysuckle, along with ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer infestation. The culled brush was piled up and burned, while the cut stumps were treated with herbicide to prevent regrowth.

Crew members cutting brush.
Burning the brush.
Spraying herbicide onto cut stumps.
Panoramic view of cleared area.
Hellie hiking in the upland woods.
Late afternoon light.
Heather on a prairie trail.
Urban Wilderness Explorers encounter a raccoon carcass.
Urban Wilderness Explorers, group 2, cross a former gravel quarry.
Prashant hikes the preserve boundary trail.
Spring will come, and with it flowers like white trillium.
Jack in the pulpit.
Apple blossoms.
Wetland panorama, summertime.
Wild mustard in bloom.
Spring creek near its artesian source in the preserve.
Autumn blaze.
Oak savanna in autumn.

To see the Badertscher Preserve page on our Find-a-Park map, click here.

To see even more photos from Badertscher, go to my Flickr album.

To learn more about guided hikes like this one and Urban Wilderness Explorers, go to our “Hike with Us!” page. And if you liked learning about this hidden gem, there are many more like it on our Find-a-Park map. Check it out!

Related story: Black raspberry heaven: Badertscher Preserve in midsummer.

Ripening black raspberries in July.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and curator of The Natural Realm.