Sand Prairie Restoration in Progress
Over the winter months, The Nature Conservancy has been restoring sand prairie at Spring Green Preserve. You can learn more about the restoration work in this Q&A with Steve Richter, the Conservancy’s Director of Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes.
Why You Should Visit
Because you can get a taste of the American West — a land of cacti and lizards, sand dunes and dry grasses — without going far from home.
Known as the "Wisconsin Desert," Spring Green is a place where forest meets bluff, and bluff levels off into plains and dunes. It is located in the unglaciated region of the state.
Southwestern Wisconsin: Sauk County just north of Spring Green in the Wisconsin River valley.
Open year-round, dawn to dusk
The preserve's self-guided trail allows you to learn as you go. At the trailhead, you will find a pamphlet containing blocks of information corresponding to each of a series of numbered markers along the trail.
Warning: Please do not hike on the bluff.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Spring Green Preserve harbors some of Wisconsin's rarest plant communities, including sand prairie, dry bluff prairie, and black oak barrens. Due to changes in land use, all of these communities, which once covered thousands of acres across the state, have almost completely disappeared.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
This preserve began as part of a 480-acre joint management agreement between The Nature Conservancy, the Head Foundation, the Wisconsin Natural Areas Preservation Council, and local landowners. The Conservancy acquired its first parcel of land at Spring Green Preserve in 1971. As of July 20, 2012, the Conservancy owns and manages over 1,111 acres.
Two primary types of land management activities occur here:
- Removal of red cedars that invade the prairies and shade out native plant species
- Use of controlled fires to suppress competing trees and shrubs, and to stimulate the growth of native grasses and wildflowers
The following groups have worked together to understand and protect the site's rare and interdependent communities of plants and animals:
- Conservancy staff and volunteers
- local landowners
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Areas Program
- Wisconsin Conservation Corps
What to See: Plants
Some plants common to Spring Green's prairies:
- Compass plant
- Dwarf dandelion
- Little bluestem and other prairie grasses
- Prickly pear cactus
Though uncommon in Wisconsin, prickly pear cactus is abundant here. It blooms in late June, producing many large, pale yellow flowers.
What to See: Invertebrates
Three species are found nowhere else in the state:
- Cicada with a lisping call
- One of seven tiger beetles recorded in Wisconsin
- Several rare leafhoppers
What to See: Animals
- Wolf spiders: They hunt at night, either by waiting near their burrows until unsuspecting insects walk past or by venturing out to seek prey. Ten species live here.
- Eastern pocket gopher: This solitary creature digs and forms tunnels about one foot below the surface of the soil. The digging enriches the soil by mixing plant material and oxygen.
- Grassland birds: The Eastern and Western meadowlarks, vesper and lark sparrows, and the dickcissel live here. Habitat fragmentation and loss on both their breeding and wintering grounds is causing the decline of many species of grassland birds.
Please see "Preserve Visitation Guidelines"
From the intersection of US Hwy 14 and State Hwy 23 near Spring Green:
- Travel north on 23 for 0.5 mile to intersection with Jones Road on the right (east)
- Travel east on Jones Road for 0.75 mile; the preserve is on the left
- Turn left into a dirt access road marked Angelo Lane — you'll see it just past a driveway to a house trailer (fire #E5196A). Note: In rural areas, a fire number is akin to a house number.
The Spring Green area is also a great place for bicycling. One of Wisconsin Nature Conservancy Director Mary Jean Huston’s favorite bike routes is the Spring Green Cactus Cruise, which goes right by our Spring Green Preserve. Grab your bike and your binoculars for a day of biking and bird-watching in this spectacular part of Wisconsin.
All of our preserve maps are now georeferenced. You can download the free PDF Maps app on your Apple or Android device, and it will allow you to view your location, record GPS tracks, add placemarks and find places.