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Wisconsin

Thomson Memorial Prairie

See rare prairie plants and animals at this preserve.


Why You Should Visit

This is a great place to see prairie wildflowers, butterflies and grassland birds.

This preserve is a remnant of dry prairie that has managed to survive in a mostly agricultural landscape, probably because the limestone bedrock beneath the soil lies too close to the surface to permit cultivation.

Location

Southwestern Wisconsin: 30 miles west of Madison in Dane and Iowa counties, in the "Driftless Area" — the only region in the state left untouched by the glaciers.

Hours

Open year-round, dawn to dusk (except during the winter when plowed snow prevents off-road parking)

Conditions

There are no trails here, and poison ivy is abundant — so be careful!

Why the Conservancy Selected this Site

Thomson is a remnant of the past. Prior to settlement, many hilltops and steep slopes in this part of the state were covered with dry prairie vegetation. Today, this is one of the few remaining dry prairies in the state.

In addition, the prairie is home to a diverse natural community: More than 68 species of plants grow here, and 34 species of birds nest or feed here.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

Little remains of Wisconsin's once extensive grasslands. Those that have managed to survive, like Thomson Memorial Prairie, are small, isolated and fragmented. To recreate a larger grassland ecosystem, these prairie remnants must be carefully managed and expanded.

As of September 18, 2014, the Conservancy owns and manages 662 acres. With the help of volunteers, we are working to restore the degraded prairie and agricultural land surrounding the preserve through a combination of planting, prescribed burning and exotic species control.

How This Site was Named

The Conservancy named the area Thomson Memorial Prairie in recognition of John and Olive Thomson, longtime friends and stewards of the prairie. In honor of their deceased son Douglas, the Thomsons established a fund for land acquisition at the prairie.

What to See: Plants

Rare plants, such as pomme de prairie and green milkweed, thrive among a profusion of other prairie grasses and wildflowers. Many prairie plants grace this undulating landscape, including the following:

  • Big bluestem
  • Birdfoot violet
  • Pasque flower
  • Porcupine grass
  • Yellow-star grass
What to See: Birds

Many grassland bird species, including Dickcissels and Eastern Meadowlarks, are common here. Bell's Vireos, Bobolinks, Loggerhead Shrikes and Upland Sandpipers also have been spotted.

Butterflies
The following species have been seen here: 

  • Aphrodite fritillary
  • Monarchs
  • Tiger swallowtails
  • Various species of skippers and sulphurs

Please see our Preserve Visitation Guidelines page for more information.

Note that hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and pheasant is allowed at Thomson Memorial Prairie during the regular posted seasons, with no prior permission from the Conservancy required.  Dogs are allowed off-leash for pheasant hunting during pheasant season.  Dogs must be on-leash the rest of the year, especially during the breeding bird season.  Click here to go to the DNR's hunting season date website.

Directions

From the town of Mt. Horeb: 

  • Take US Hwy 18/151 west. 
  • Proceed to the intersection with Cnty Hwy F on the southwestern edge of Blue Mounds.
  • Turn south on Cnty F and continue for just over one mile.
  • At the intersection with Cnty Hwy Z, turn right — this will keep you on Cnty F.
  • The preserve will be on your right in about one-half mile.
  • Park in the small fenced parking lot or along side of the road.

Map to Thomson Prairie
Topographic map of Thomson Prairie

Discussion

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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