The distinctive whine of chainsaws and the sharp warnings of the sawyer are about all that the logging operation at Crooked Creek Preserve in southeastern Wisconsin has in common with modern methods. Logging here is done only in winter when the flies and heat won’t bother the two primary volunteers. And all the equipment is hand-made with names like sleds, scoots, and wagons.
When Scott Thompson, Director of Freshwater Conservation, was faced with the problem of clearing timber from the steep, glaciated hills of Crooked Creek Preserve in southeastern Wisconsin, he turned to oxen drover Dave Schrupp.
Dave recalls, “Scott called me one day and asked ‘Can your oxen work on steep slopes?’ I came out and looked at it [Crooked Creek] for an afternoon and decided it wasn’t hard to do.” So in November, 2002, Dave brought out his oxen trailer and two oxen and began to free the preserve’s oak savannas from the pine plantations that blocked them from the sun. That first day, the team of 12 people cut down eight trees, and took all day to clean up. They’ve improved over the years, and last year were clearing forty to sixty trees a day, cutting them to length and stacking the brush before the day ended.
Dave is a potter and a former art teacher who has created nearly all the equipment needed by the team. He and former volunteer Art Lutzke researched traditional equipment and created sleds, scoots, an 8-foot logging sled and a wagon to help with the project. This year, they resurrected a logging technique called cross-hauling, that uses a ramp and rope system to allow the oxen to pull logs onto a stack. “I don’t think anyone has cross-hauled logs with oxen in Wisconsin for 100 years,” Dave said.
Since Dave started his work with The Nature Conservancy, photos of Dot and Dash, the oxen team helping to clear the pines from Crooked Creek, have been printed in national magazines, the state’s major newspapers and have been shown on television. But while the oxen have become superstars, Dave, who raised the two since they were four months old, has received less notice for his part of the work. Instead, he finds his satisfaction in what he’s accomplished and what he sees for the future.
“I like the outdoors. I hunt, fish, and camp, and I realize I can’t do those things if there aren’t any places to do them. Eventually, Crooked Creek will be a natural environment where people have the opportunity to see birds and other animals.
“I like the idea of fixing something we broke,” he said.