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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.