HomeDNRVolunteer workdays help burn calories while caring for state natural areas
An easy way to live up to your resolution to get more exercise in 2017

MADISON – Looking to make good on your new year’s resolutions to get outside and get more exercise? Join in volunteer workdays at more than two dozen state natural areas to help care for and enjoy some of Wisconsin’s most pristine public lands.

Enjoy spectacular views of the Mississippi River while helping these volunteers care for Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area in Pepin County.
Enjoy spectacular views of the Mississippi River while helping these volunteers care for Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area in Pepin County.
Photo Credit: DNR

Morning workdays are held throughout the winter to cut brush and burn it at these sites, including four where new volunteer groups are forming or recently underway. New signup lists have been added for people interested in helping out at these sites in Crawford, Marquette, Pepin, and Winnebago counties.

“Winter is a great time to get some exercise helping care for the state natural areas that belong to you,” says Jared Urban, who coordinates the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program for the Department of Natural Resources.

“We have some exciting opportunities to get involved coming up, including some newer sites in Marquette, Pepin and Winnebago counties and one brand new volunteer effort at the Hogback Prairies in Crawford County.”

Volunteers need no training beforehand but are provided equipment and training on site to do the work. Winter work typically involves helping cut, pile and burn brush or scattering prairies seeds on snow. Typical workdays run from 9 a.m. to noon and allow for breaks and snacks are often provided.

Find a list of workdays and flyers on each event on the SNA Volunteer webpage. From that web page, people also may sign up to receive email notices for workdays at state natural areas in different parts of the state.

Since starting in 2011, the DNR State Natural Areas Volunteer Program has grown to include volunteer groups caring for more than two dozen sites statewide.

Sites with new volunteer groups seeking helping hands

Hogback Prairies State Natural Area in Crawford County is known for its striking geology, dry prairie, rare plants, and rare animals. With brushy plants overtaking the prairie and prescribed fire limited to protect two endangered butterflies, the regal fritillary and the Ottoe skipper, DNR land managers turned to goats to help control the shrubs. The goats are carefully monitored and rotated through paddocks on site. Such restoration work by goats and DNR crews have helped contribute to high regal fritillary populations there.

“Due to efforts by DNR crews in recent years the site quality is improving and the prairie is expanding, but invasive brush remains a threat and more hands are needed to remove it and encourage native plants to thrive,” Urban says.

Prescribed fire and these grazing goats have helped beat back invasive brush at Hogback Prairies State Natural Area in Crawford County. Join a new volunteer team forming to help continue the progress at this site, home to several rare butterflies.
Prescribed fire and these grazing goats have helped beat back invasive brush at Hogback Prairies State Natural Area in Crawford County. Join a new volunteer team forming to help continue the progress at this site, home to several rare butterflies.
Photo Credit: Dean Edlin

The next volunteer workdays are set for Jan. 23 and Jan. 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the site. Sign up for the Driftless email alerts to learn of future workdays.

Observatory Hill State Natural Area in Marquette County is one of the boyhood haunts of John Muir, the famed naturalist who is considered the father of the national park system. The site features a 300-foot outcropping that’s the highest point in Marquette County. The valleys and ridges radiating out from that point are being restored to the cedar glade and oak savanna landscape that Muir enjoyed exploring in the 1850s.

Volunteers started working on the site in 2016 to help remove invasive plants. Though the site does not yet have workdays listed in January or February, check back or sign up for the Central Sands email to get notices about coming events.

Oshkosh-Larsen Trail Prairies State Natural Area in Winnebago County features a series of three low prairie remnants along a 4-mile segment of a former railroad right-of-way. The prairie contains a diversity of native prairie species ranging from little blue-stem, Indian grass, prairie drop-seed, and prairie cord grass, to heath aster, shooting-star, sunflowers and blazing-star. Restoration efforts got a boost there after volunteers trained through the DNR Rare Plant Monitoring Program were asked to check for rare plants. They found a few of the plants but also alerted DNR about a prairie in dire need of attention. DNR was able to secure a federal grant and DNR crews conducted a prescribed burn to knock back the brush. Volunteers will continue brush removal at that site.

Sign up for the Upper Lake Michigan email to get notices about workdays for this site.

Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area in Pepin County is renowned for its mile-long bluff rising 400 feet above the Mississippi River, and for its nesting peregrine falcons, a bird of prey listed as endangered in Wisconsin. Efforts there have strengthened the rich prairie and oak savanna communities found there. Work has included removing cedar and buckthorn from hill prairies, establishing new fire breaks, planting prairie, and thinning around oak trees. Buckthorn, an invasive shrub, is a big problem at the natural area and volunteers have been working since 2015 help remove it. The Lower Chippewa River Alliance, Lower Chippewa Invasive Partnership, the Pepin County Land Conservation Department and DNR have worked together to get the volunteer group going.

Sign up for the West Central email to get notices about workdays for this site.

Workdays are scheduled at other sites in the state. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search “SNA volunteers” to reach the page where you’ll find links to flyers for each of these events and where you can sign up to receive email notifications. Or contact Jared Urban at jared.urban@wisconsin.gov to see if there are volunteer groups near you looking for help.

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