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Places We Protect

Spring Green Prairie

Wisconsin

A landscape of green prairie.
Spring Green Prairie Spring Green gives visitors a taste of the American West. © Emily Mills/TNC

Spring Green Prairie is known as the Wisconsin Desert and is a land of cacti and lizards.

Overview

Description

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 these communities, which once covered thousands of acres across the state, have almost completely disappeared.

Known as the Wisconsin Desert, the preserve is a place where forest meets bluff, and bluff levels off into plains and dunes.

Visit Spring Green Preserve and get a taste of the American West—a land of cacti and lizards, sand dunes and dry grasses—without going far from home.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Dogs not permitted.

Hours

Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Highlights

Prickly pear cactus, bird-watching, hiking trail

Size

1,362 acres

Explore our work in this region

Photos from Spring Green Prairie

From beetles and cacti to butterflies and sparrows, this preserve is home to a diverse array of species for visitors to enjoy.

Purple and yellow wildflowers grow in the foreground of a green field under a bright blue sky.
A small bird perches with its legs across two bare branches, its beak open to sing. The bird has brown wings with yellow and black markings across its face and chest.
A lark sparrow bird standing on a branch.
A close-up of a purple spiderwort plant.
An American Copper Butterfly sits on a leaf.
Close-up of a small, shiny purple beetle with hairy legs standing on sandy soil.
A cluster of small, rounded cactus leaves are light green against brown and red grasses. Several yellow flowers are blooming.
A group of people wearing outdoorsy clothing stand listening to a man who stands facing a tall bluff and grassy prairie.
A close-up of purple bird's foot violet flowers.
A small bird opens its beak to sing out into a blue sky. The bird is brown and white freckled, with bright yellow markings on its belly and face.

Visit

  • What to See

    Plants: Spring Green is home to many beautiful and interesting plants that thrive in this sandy prairie. Some of these include compass plant, dwarf dandelion, leadplant, puccoon, blazingstar, and Venus looking glass. Though uncommon in Wisconsin, prickly pear cactus is abundant here. It blooms in late June, producing many large yellow flowers.

    Birds: Many species of grassland birds including Eastern and Western meadowlarks; Henslow’s, vesper, savannah, grasshopper, and lark sparrows; and dickcissels. Habitat fragmentation and loss on both their breeding and wintering grounds is causing the decline of many species of grassland birds.

    Other Animals: Likely named after the tiger for their similar predatory habits, the prairie is home to 10 of Wisconsin’s 16 species of tiger beetles. The small creatures are voracious hunters and fast runners. Ten species of wolf spiders have also been found at the preserve, although they are harder to see becausethey hunt at night, either by waiting near their burrows until unsuspecting insects walk past or by venturing out to seek prey. Eastern pocket gophers, which tend to be solitary creatures, dig and form tunnels about one foot below the surface of the soil at the preserve. Their digging enriches the soil by mixing plant material and oxygen.

  • Plan Your Visit

    There is a walking trail at the eastern portion of the preserve, which you can access off Jones Road. The sandy trail goes through the prairie paralleling the bluff and eventually climbs up the hill to the top of the bluff where there is a beautiful view back over the prairie and the surrounding landscape. The first part of the trail is a flat, easy walk. Once the trail starts to climb upward, it is fairly steep and a bit rocky in some spots. Hiking sticks would be helpful on this part.

    Please stay on the trail during your visit. To avoid damaging the fragile habitat on the slope, please do not hike straight up or down the bluff and do not paraglide at the preserve.

    Please note that the prairie is very open until you are headed up the bluff where there are trees for shade. In the summer, you will want to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

    The Spring Green area is also a great place for bicycling. One of our 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.

  • Maps and Preserve Guidelines

    For more information about visiting the preserve, please follow the links below:

    Hunting Information

    Preserve Visitation Guidelines (.pdf)

    Map of Spring Green Prairie (.pdf)

    All our preserve maps are now georeferenced. You can download an app on your Apple or Android device, and it will allow you to view your location, record GPS tracks, add placemarks and find places.

Background

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. TNC acquired its first parcel of land at Spring Green Preserve in 1971.

Since those early days, we have added more than 800 additional acres to the preserve, and the preserve now encompasses land on both sides of Hwy 23.

Staff and volunteers manage the land to keep the diverse prairie and oak barren habitats healthy. 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 preserve's rare and interdependent communities of plants and animals - TNC staff and volunteers, local landowners, researchers, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Areas Program, and the Wisconsin Conservation Corps.

Nearby Preserves

Need more nature? Visit The Nature Conservancy's other preserves.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map

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