Forest opening with rocky outcrops and blue sky and clouds above.
Devil's Lake State Park TNC and the Wisconsin DNR worked together to protect 301 acres in the southwest corner of this popular state park. © Emily Mills / TNC

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Nature Conservancy and Wisconsin DNR Acquisition Adds 301 Acres to Devil’s Lake State Park

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced today that it has closed on the purchase of 80 acres of forested land adjacent to Devil’s Lake State Park. Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finalized the purchase of 221 acres from the same owner. Combined, the 301-acre property sits at the heart of a large expanse of protected land owned and managed by TNC, the Ho-Chunk Nation, and the DNR. 

TNC and the DNR have for decades been interested in adding the land to the park, working together to accomplish the purchase and assure the land is protected for the public.

“Partnerships like this are absolutely vital to make these important land acquisitions possible,” says Steve Schmelzer, DNR Bureau of Parks and Recreation Management Director. “Devil’s Lake State Park is one of our state’s most popular parks and conserving more land in the area is critically important to our outdoor recreation economy.”

“We’re thrilled to finalize this rare opportunity to purchase and protect a significant expanse of intact forest and safeguard it from development,” says Elizabeth Koehler, Wisconsin State Director of The Nature Conservancy. “This acquisition will help maintain habitat for wildlife and a rare plant community that’s part of Wisconsin’s natural heritage, while also offering the opportunity to expand a beloved state park.”

The newly acquired land will be open to the public and included in the upcoming Devil’s Lake State Park Master Planning process.

A haven for birds and rare plants

Located within the park boundary, the new property is at the southwest corner of the South Bluff Oak Forest/Devil’s Nose State Natural Area. It is part of a vast expanse of forest that covers the southern flank of the Baraboo Hills, which are embedded in a largely agricultural landscape. The Baraboo Hills were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980 in recognition of their outstanding biological and geological resources.

TNC first protected land at the South Bluff Oak Forest area of Devil’s Lake State Park in 1971, working with five landowners to protect a total of 156 acres over the next 20 years. Eventually, all the land was transferred to state ownership in 2007. TNC protected another 251 acres at Devil’s Lake State Park between 1992 and 2010 in collaboration with the state and now owns and manages more than 9,500 adjoining acres on the west side of Hwy 12.

Identifying the property as an important part of the landscape for protection, TNC began negotiations with the owners several decades ago, eventually working with the DNR to help broker the final deal.

The acquisition was also made possible by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. State grants issued by the program provide a crucial tool for public-private conservation partnerships, especially at a time when more Wisconsinites than ever are turning to the outdoors and our great state parks for recreation and solace.

Additionally, the Hills are a Wisconsin Important Bird Area, supporting some 135 species of breeding birds and providing important stopover habitat for other migratory bird species. They contain more rare species and diverse concentrations of birds than any other similar-sized forested area in southern Wisconsin.

The property also hosts a rare plant community, known as acid bedrock glade, where the underlying bedrock is close to the surface. Within the Hills’ forested system, glades serve as refugia for light-demanding species that are adapted to more open savanna and prairie conditions, which were formerly much more abundant in parts of Wisconsin.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.