at Spring Green Preserve, Wisconsin.
Turtle tracks in the sand at Spring Green Preserve, Wisconsin. © Robert A. Kleppin

Places We Protect

Spring Green Prairie

Wisconsin

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

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.

Spring Green Prairie is home to 10 of Wisconsin’s 16 species of tiger beetles.

Location

Southwestern Wisconsin: Sauk County just north of Spring Green in the Wisconsin River valley.

Conditions 

Please stay on the trail during your visit; it will eventually take you to the top of the bluff. 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. 

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. 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
  • researchers
  • 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
  • Leadplant
  • Little bluestem and other prairie grasses
  • Prickly pear cactus
  • Puccoon

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 rare tiger beetles recorded in Wisconsin
  • Several rare leafhoppers

Tiger beetles: 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.

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.

What to See: Animals

  • 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.

PLAN YOUR VISIT

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