More information coming soon!
ACCESS & DIRECTIONS
More information coming soon!
Photo credit: Jerry Newman
The Vale Prairie has over 70 species of native prairie plants, some of which are endangered, threatened and of special concern here in Wisconsin. This remnant is also home to the federally threatened prairie bush clover, a very rare plant found only in the upper Midwest!
The state endangered pink milkwort is also found here. This remnant is the only protected site in the state where this plant has been found as of 1999. Other outstanding qualities of the site are its prairie smoke and shooting star displays.
Hiking here is considered moderately challenging. There are no trails, parts are rocky, and there are badger holes to be wary of.
From Albany, go west on Mineral Point Road to Purinton Road. Continue west to Schneeberger Road, turn right (north) and go about 4/10 of a mile, and park along the road. Walk in to the west of Schneeberger, on a rutted dirt track along a fence line, a quarter-mile on our narrow easement between crop fields.
The remnant was first located in the mid 1970’s. Back then there was no such thing as The Prairie Enthusiasts. There was just a small bunch of guys who loved prairies and liked to burn them, then drink beer and talk about preserving remnants. The Vale Prairie was managed for about five years, then left to its own until 1992, when the Southwest Chapter purchased the 4.5 acre remnant and 11.5 acre buffer for a total of 16 acres. That was truly a fine purchase. The site was named the Vale Prairie after the owners, Harold and Crescent Vale, who were in favor of its protection and restoration
In the winter of 1993, TPE volunteers and Wisconsin Conservation Corps crews cut and stump treated all woody vegetation on the site. After eight years of work, the area is recovering nicely. Part of the restoration plan involved replanting an area of 1.5 acres in the southwest corner of the property because smooth brome had completely taken over. Our plan was to spray it with Roundup, collect seed, and replant. The spraying was done, and several months later, to our complete amazement, most of the regrowth was of prairie plants, apparently released to grow when the brome was killed! It was decided that the buffer areas would serve as a sort of genetic refuge for disappearing species from within Green County. Two species that have been nearly extirpated in Green County are Wild Quinine and Pale Purple Coneflower, so seed was collected from one coneflower site and three quinine sites and sown there. We now have a healthy and growing population of these plants.
In addition, part of the restoration plan involved expanding the remnant size, but only by using seed from the remnant. To date, a strip 30 feet by 400 feet has been restored on the south edge, and another area on the west end, measuring 45 feet by 100 feet, also has been restored. Areas that were heavily shaded by dense trees and brush have been mowed annually with a sickle bar mower. These areas are difficult to work with due to the fact that birds used the trees as perches for years, and as we all know, where there are birds, there are bird droppings, usually laced with seeds of everything except prairie plants! Once the shady trees are gone, these seeds grow like crazy. Presently the remnant is surrounded by old hayfields dominated by orchard grass. It does serve as a grassland habitat for some bird species, but our hopes are to plant these areas to prairie as well.
These 13.7 acres preserve wet prairie, sedge meadow, little pools, clumps of willow and a single large bur oak. Biologists have recorded over 200 plant species and scores of insect and spider species. When’s the last time you saw a crayfish tunnel in a prairie? Thomas Wet Prairie is full of them. It also home to a fuzzy-shelled old snapping turtle. Each summer, dozens of sedge wrens and a few snipe nest there. Bald eagles often visit the bur oak.
Thomas Wet Prairie is located in Grant County on County Trunk Highway G, approximately 7.5 miles south of the village of Muscoda and 8 miles north of the intersection with US Highway 18. 16403 County Road G, Muscoda 53573.
For decades, the Thomas family left their cattle in the wet prairie. Far from the barn, and too squishy for easy walking, cattle didn’t graze the land very hard. The Thomas family includes nature lovers. They never installed drain tile or broadcast sprayed the pasture with herbicide the way some farmers might. Their gentle approach to farming sustained the native community.
In the late 1980s, the Prairie Enthusiasts purchased 13.7 acres from the Thomas family with targeted funds from a major donor. Before then, volunteers had explored, documented and managed prairie remnants, but hadn’t acquired any land for permanent protection. At Thomas Wet Prairie, The Prairie Enthusiasts became a landowner for the first time.
Although Thomas Wet Prairie never had the dense brush that threaten many prairies, reed canary grass and hybrid cattails crowd out native species in parts of the preserve. To reduce their abundance, volunteers use a combination of frequent fire and selective herbicide treatment. When burning, volunteers leave half of the land unburned as a refuge for fire-sensitive species. Volunteers spread seeds of native species into the areas where they are removing pest species.
The Swenson Bluff Prairie site contains two distinct non-contiguous prairie remnants sitting high atop the bluff, with spectacular views of the farms and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church situated in the wide, flat valley below. The larger of the two parcels, known as Swenson Hill Prairie, is approximately 16 acres, including the surrounding woods. At the top of the hill are five acres of open grassland, a large remnant representative of calcareous, dry-mesic hill prairie. Plant species present indicate a light or non-existent grazing history, and it is most notable for the heterogeneity of its summer prairie flora. The smaller parcel, known as Shooting Star Prairie, is approximately 3 acres in size. In addition to a huge display of its namesake plant, this small remnant is also home to the largest Wisconsin population of pale false foxglove (Agalinis skinneriana), a prairie annual listed as endangered or threatened in all states where it occurs.
The larger parcel of this site is located 1.9 miles south of State Highway 14, and the village of Arena, on County Road H. There is no parking lot; park in the west roadside right-of-way of County Road H (to be legal, parked vehicles need to be at least 3 feet away from the gravel shoulder). Access is by foot only starting at the TPE sign, walking along the field edge to the trail head at the edge of the wooded area. The smaller parcel is located 0.2 miles to the south-southeast. The hike up to either prairie is very steep.
Swenson Hill Prairie is, at five acres of open grassland, a large remnant representative of calcareous, dry-mesic hill prairie. It is largely free of common herbaceous weeds such as white sweetclover (Melilotus alba) and wild parsnip (Pastinaca sa). There are small clusters of compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), indicating a light or non-existent grazing history (the hillside is considerably removed from the dairy barn on the Swenson farm). It is most notable for the heterogeneity of its summer prairie flora, with leadplant, butterflyweed, and prairie coreopsis (Amorpha canescens, Asclepias tuberosa, and Coreopsis palmata) blooming in a vast, intermixed display. Likewise, the 2014 burn revealed a rich display of prairie spring ephemerals (violets, puccoon, and violet wood sorrel among them) on a lower, more level portion of the property. Other plants of note are tuberous Indian plantain, prairie turnip, cream Baptisia, and Hill’s thistle (Arnoglossum plantagineum, Pediomelum esculentum, Baptisia bracteate, and Cirsium Hillii).
After extensive clearing in 2003, Shooting Star Prairie demonstrated why it received its common name. The skirt of brush at the base of the hill had concealed a huge display of Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia). This small remnant is also home to one of four, and the largest, Wisconsin populations of pale false foxglove, Agalinis skinneriana, a prairie annual that is listed as Endangered or Threatened in all the States where it occurs.
Good invertebrate records from WDNR surveys in the 1990s and 2000s exist for both parcels. Across both tracts, thirteen prairie-specialist species – those dependent on prairie remnants – have been cataloged. On Swenson Hill Prairie, there is a collection record for the rare Kansas Prairie Leafhopper (Prairiana kansana), but that collection was not repeated after the initial collection. The WDNR lists P. kansana as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Shooting Star Prairie has rich sods of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) which harbor the State-endangered Hill Prairie Shovelhead Leafhopper (Attenuipyga vanuduzeei), known from only six or seven locations in the Upper Midwest. The State-threatened prairie specialist Net-Veined Leafhopper (Polyamia dilata is also found on Shooting Star Prairie.
SGCN, Threatened and Endangered Species on the Swenson Hill (SHP) and Shooting Star Prairies (SSP):
|Pale False Foxglove
|WI Endangered (S2)
|WI Special Concern (S3)
|WI Threatened (S3)
Federal Species of Concern (SOC)
|WI Special Concern (S3)
|Hill Prairie Shovelhead Leafhopper
|WI Endangered (S1)
Federal Species of Concern (SOC)
|WI Threatened (S2)
|Kansas Prairie Leafhopper
|WI Special Concern (S2)
The Prairie Enthusiasts have been active on the Swenson Bluff Prairie site with management activities and field trips since 2002. This, along with the ongoing relationship maintained with the Swenson family by volunteers Amy Staffen and Scott Sauer through the past decades, kept the protection prospects alive and led to TPE ownership on August 20, 2018. Funding for this purchase was made possible, in part, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
The Swenson Bluff Prairie parcels are part of a larger prairie complex with other remnants persisting on nearby hillsides and bluff tops, making this an important area for native plant diversity. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) led protection efforts in this area beginning in the early 1990’s when TPE was still a small organization. The Nature Conservancy’s interest in this area derived primarily from the presence of the rare Agalinis skinneriana and, secondarily, from the biodiversity of the area provided by the prairie-savanna-woodland complex.
Either the Swenson Hill or nearby Drakenburg prairie were included in the description and analysis of dry-mesic prairies in John Curtis’s seminal work The Vegetation of Wisconsin (1956). Notes within the 1990 TNC description of the sites and the St. John’s Complex suggest that Olive Thomson visited these sites in the 1950’s. (Read more about Dr. John and Olive Thomson, premier conservationists, environmental education leaders and naturalists.)
In 2002, with funding provided by a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) grant for private lands, both Swenson Hill Prairie and Shooting Start Prairie were largely cleared of invasive red cedars, as well as some planted and volunteer white pines, black cherry, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and other invasive shrubs. In 2007, TPE volunteers burned roughly 2/3 of Swenson Hill Prairie. Site steward Scott Sauer, along with volunteers from Quercus Land Stewardship, conducted winter-season burns on Swenson Hill Prairie in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Current management efforts are focused on continued removal of invasive species, especially buckthorn and honeysuckle.
More information coming soon!