Photo essay: Exploring the Treasures of OZ
By Eddee Daniel
There’s gold in them thar hills! No, not the kind that drives pirates to pillage, or gets fashioned into wedding rings, or (once upon a time) was used to prop up national currencies. This treasure is the hills themselves—and valleys, meadows, wetlands, and other wonderful natural features of Ozaukee County. Welcome to this year’s Treasures of OZ Eco Tour, the annual celebration of Ozaukee County parks and preserves. Due to the exigencies of COVID, for the second year in a row the Eco Tour was conducted as a week-long Do-It-Yourself event (the week of September 12-18). Fifteen special places were selected for this year’s event—which seems like a lot to me. I managed to visit four during the week.
My favorite aspect of each year’s Treasures tour is being introduced to parks and preserves I have not yet visited in my travels around Ozaukee County. Although the tour has been around for over ten years now, this is my fourth year and already I’m noticing that there are fewer new ones to explore. Of the fifteen, I’d already been to thirteen of them! Fortunately for me and my penchant for adventure, the two new ones on this year’s tour were not only new to me but also satisfyingly untamed. So, now that I’ve been introduced, let me return the favor and introduce you, dear reader, to the two newest preserves on the list of Treasures of OZ.
Center Lane Preserve, Newburg
Located just south of Hwy 33 and west of Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area.
A dirt road leads into the woods past a few houses nestled among the trees. The Treasures of OZ sign assures me that I can enter and park in what appears to be a fallow farm field. No one else is there. I don’t see any trails but the vegetation has been packed down enough to wander across the field, which I do. Reaching the far edge, I discover a rather impenetrable palisade of trees and shrubs. I follow it around the entire field without finding a way to go beyond. But I have missed the nearest corner so I head back out there and, voilà! I find a trail leading deeper into the woods.
The trail takes me to a remarkably well-preserved log cabin. Not knowing its history, I imagine the logs were felled on site, hand hewn, and filled with locally sourced mortar—perhaps by the Beimborn family, which owned the land for over 120 years before the current generation sold it to Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT).
Following an increasingly faint track deeper into the woods I discover a lovely pond and a secluded stand of pines. A cornfield beyond that suggests I’ve reached the north edge of the 60-acre preserve. Heading east, I quickly bog down in a wetland and lose sight of the trail. But my perseverance rewards me with a lovely patch of blue bottle gentians. I don’t know about you, but I consider gentians a treasure in themselves, their appearance in the wild unexpected and marvelous!
County Line Conifer Swamp, Newburg
Located (no surprise) on County Line Road / Hwy Y just south of Newburg and west of Center Lane Preserve.
After my foray into Center Lane Preserve, I drive more or less around the block to find County Line Conifer Swamp. If not for the Treasures of OZ sign I might have driven right past because there’s a chain drawn across the entrance and nowhere to park except right up against it. This is by design, I learn, when I give a quick call to the OWLT office to inquire. They do not want cars entering the as yet undeveloped preserve and the chain limits visitors to one car at a time.
An enormous walnut tree shades the dirt track just past the chain, like a foyer, which opens out onto a broad prairie full of yellow wildflowers dancing in the wind. But no trail leads into it so I continue up the overgrown, single-lane dirt track, which rises onto what seems to be a ridge between the prairie and a wetland—presumably the eponymous swamp. The tunnel-like road, lined and shaded with tall cedars and birches, slopes gradually down to dead end at a large pond surrounded by a dense wall of cedars.
I follow a rudimentary trail through the grasses and discover that it circumnavigates the entire pond, allowing me to investigate—and photograph—it from all angles. But, as I make my way back along the same path I’d come in on, I am acutely aware that I’ve seen only a tiny fraction of the 74-acre preserve.
When I return home and take a look at an aerial view of the area it becomes clear that the two preserves, Center Lane and the Conifer Swamp, really bookend a rather vast complex of continuous wetlands and woodlands in between. I dearly hope that some future Treasures of OZ Eco Tour includes an expanded preserve encompassing this entire ecosystem!
In case you missed my first post about this year’s Treasures of OZ Eco Tour, here it is again: Fantastic fungi are among the Treasures of OZ!
Related posts from previous Treasures of OZ Eco Tours