Join our Email List!





Sauk Prairie State Recreation area prairie with goldenrod and other wildflowers

Touring Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area

October 7, 2019  |  Topics: Places

By Michelle Allison

Photographs by Eddee Daniel

The surprisingly flat Sauk Prairie lies between the Baraboo Hills and the Wisconsin River on an outwash plain left behind by the melting glacier 14,000 years ago. Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area is a small piece of that land, which is being restored after decades of abuse.

A meadow with grasses and goldenrod
Dancing grasses

Recently, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center led a field trip to the Recreation Area, which is located between Baraboo and Sauk City. We toured the state-owned portion of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant, which produced munitions for WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The plant was decommissioned in 1997.

a painted lady butterfly on clover blossom
Painted lady butterfly on clover

The 3,385-acre Recreation Area is now open to the public and features rare remnant prairie and savannah sites. The restoration process is intended to manage invasive species and create habitat for grassland birds and a variety of other wildlife.

A patch of black-eyed Susans in front of a white steel structure
Black-eyed Susans brighten the exterior of the Museum of Badger Army Ammunition

Our tour began with an introduction at the Museum of Badger Army Ammunition to learn about the history of the property and all the changes it has gone through from ancient times to the present. Then we headed outside into the blustery winds to explore the land.

A man with a graphic map standing on a prairie with a low mountain range in the background
Charlie Luthin, Executive Director of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance

Charlie Luthin, Executive Director of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance, guided us on a bus tour through the immense property. Our first stop was at the Prairie & Bluff View, where we were greeted by monarch butterflies floating along the sunny roadside. Charlie stood among the tall grasses and goldenrods to teach us about the geologic history of the Baraboo Hills visible in the distance.

a stand of oak trees
Remnant oak savannah

Our next stop was the Hillside Prairie & Savannah, a remnant from pre-settlement times that was passed over by the plow because of its location on a steep slope. Sky blue asters popped against goldenrod and Indian grass.

A man holding a goldenrod stalk with a gall fly gall on it as others look on.
Don Quintenz with a goldenrod gall, which contains a gall fly larva

Don Quintenz, Senior Ecologist at Schlitz Audubon, led an adventurous group up the hill to investigate the prairie plants and insects. Some of our discoveries included a goldenrod gall, painted lady butterflies, and a bright green katydid.

A hand holding a green katydid

We passed an old cemetery to get to our last stop at the Outwash Plain Overlook. This site provided an amazing panoramic view of another section of the former ammunition plant, now owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation, as well as the distant Baraboo Hills. This prairie periodically is managed through prescribed burns and mowing to keep invasive shrubs at bay. We could all see why grassland birds find this area so attractive! There was so much to explore that we could only cover a fraction of what this unique landscape has to offer.

White aster blossoms and wild grape leaves
White aster blossoms and wild grape leaves
Canada goldenrod
Canada goldenrod

Michelle Allison is the Adult Programs Coordinator at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.