MADISON - A 50th anniversary celebration of Hartman Creek State Park, the grand opening of a campground at Buckhorn State Park, 20 fishing clinics across the state, an art fair along the Willow River and a discovery day and outdoor skills fest are among the events that highlight Free Fun Weekend in Wisconsin on June 4-5.
The first weekend in June offers ample opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors in Wisconsin. Admission stickers are waived for Wisconsin's state parks and forests, trail passes normally required for those 16 or older who bike, in-line skate or horseback ride on state trails are waived and no fishing licenses are needed to fish state waters. People who camp at state parks still need to pay for their campsites, and fees are not waived at Heritage Hill State Park, which is operated by a non-profit organization that charges a per-person admission to the park.
Wisconsin law requires those who use Wisconsin ATV or UTV trails to display either Wisconsin registration or a Nonresident Trail Pass, but on Free Fun Weekend, ATV/UTV owners do not need to have their machines registered in Wisconsin and nonresidents do not need to have a trail pass.
"Free Fun Weekend is a great opportunity for people to get out and enjoy Wisconsin's beautiful parks, forests and trails," said Gov. Scott Walker. "I encourage people to pick up a fishing rod and enjoy free fishing if they have never tried or haven't fished for a while, or take a hike or bike ride on one of our many state trails."
The Governor noted that Wisconsin State Parks, Forests and Trails are important to Wisconsin's and local economies, attracting a record 16.5 million visitors in 2015 and estimated total spending by park properties visitors at more than $1 billion a year.
Hartman Creek State Park, located in Waupaca County just west of the city of Waupaca, will celebrate its 50th anniversary June 4. There will be events throughout the day ranging from presentations by wildlife, forestry and warden staff, to fishing and living history programs put on by park staff and the Friends of Hartman Creek. There will also be free cake and a visit from Smokey Bear. The Friends of Hartman Creek State Park, bike and horse clubs, the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, all of which influenced and contributed to the park over the years, will have displays at the park. A program and afternoon awards ceremony will recognize individuals -- both park staff and volunteers -- who have been special contributors to the park.
Buckhorn State Park will celebrate a new 60-unit, fully developed campground. The grand opening will be at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, by site 105. There will be a short presentation with ribbon cutting, cake, and self-guided hike on the new campground trail and games at the beach. This is the first new state park campground in Wisconsin since 2011 when one opened at Governor Thompson State Park.
The Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is hosting a Discovery Day on Saturday, June 4 that begins at 7:30 a.m. with a bird hike and runs through 1 p.m. with t-shirt printing, geocaching, archery, fishing with a sportsman's club and a hike on the park's segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with the local Ice Age Trail group. Visitors can meet Smokey Bear and DNR wardens, rangers and naturalists.
June 4 is also National Trails Day and the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest will celebrate with a late spring hike on the Ice Age Trail through the forest. The hike begins at 9 a.m. with a 4.5-mile option or shorter 2-mile family-friendly hike option available. The city of Amery, which is located between the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail and Cattail State Trail in Polk County is holding "Amery Trails Days," with a pancake breakfast, a bike rodeo at 9 a.m., and other activities including a petting zoo, afternoon sloppy joe meal, free ice cream cones, car seat checks and a lifelink helicopter visit near the Amery Fire Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Sunday, June 5, the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest will host a Summer Outdoor Skills Fest with archery, fish casting, tracking, fire building, outdoor cooking, knot tying, geocaching, tent pitching and signaling. Visitors can bring a bandanna to print or can purchase one that day.
Also on June 5, Willow River State Park will host its annual Art Along the Willow. Visitors can stroll through the park past booths of many fine arts and crafts. Musical groups will provide free entertainment. A special craft tent will be available for children. The Friends of Willow River and Kinnickinnic State Parks also plan to have a food concession stand. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Some properties are taking advantage of Free Fun Weekend by offer fishing clinics, including High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae and Merrick state parks, Richard Bong State Recreation Area, and the Northern and Pike Lake units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
But people can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp on Free Fun Weekend. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish you can keep and any seasons when you must release certain fish species.
And if people are enjoying Free Fun Weekend from a fishing boat or are just out on the water in a canoe or on a paddleboard, state conservation wardens are reminding them to wear a life jacket.
"More than 90 percent of boat fatalities related to drowning involve victims not wearing life jackets," said April Dombrowski, head of the DNR recreational safety team.
All vessels, including canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard, and for any boat 16 feet and longer, one approved throwable device.
"We recommend that everyone wear their life jackets while on the water. Paddleboard users by law also must have a life jacket, also known as a personal flotation device, for each person on board. It's easiest just to wear it while you're paddling. Some of the new designs are so light and flexible you barely know you have them on," Dombrowski said.
She also offers paddleboarders, or those looking to add this activity to their outdoor fun this year, a few safety tips to remember: carry a whistle; know how to swim; know how to self-rescue and tow to another board; know local regulations and navigation rules; keep an eye on the weather and water conditions; and take a safety course - no matter what boat you are using.
For more information search the DNR website for "free fun." Find parks, forests and trails by searching the Department of Natural Resources website for "find a park" and find events by searching for "Get Outdoors," and then click on the "type" button and select "Free Fun Weekend."
MADISON - Musky size is on the rise in Wisconsin and that means the potential for a big bite is better than ever as the northern season gets underway on Saturday, May 28.
In Wisconsin, the musky season is divided into northern and southern zones in recognition of differences in water temperatures and spawning dates. In the northern zone, north of U.S. Highway 10 excluding Wisconsin-Michigan boundary waters, the season runs from May 28 to Nov. 30. In waters south of Highway 10, musky season opened May 7 and runs until Dec. 31.
Statewide, the minimum length to keep a fish remains unchanged at 40 inches. What has changed is that, on average, Wisconsin's muskies keep getting larger.
"The prospects for muskellunge fishing throughout the state are excellent for 2016 and beyond," said Tim Simonson, DNR fisheries biologist and musky management team leader. "The average length of all muskies captured as well as the top 10 percent of those captured has been increasing since at least 1985. Currently, the top 10 percent of fish collected during our spring netting surveys are running above 46 inches in size."
At the same time, the average length of all adult muskies in Wisconsin waters has been trending upwards and now stands between 37 and 38 inches. Simonson said DNR's trend data is similar to that collected by Muskies Inc. members from Wisconsin waters.
"Credit for these trends goes in large part to the musky anglers themselves, as many of them are committed to catch and release practices," Simonson said. "The trends also are a testament to the productivity of Wisconsin waters and our effective fisheries management. It's no coincidence that more record muskies have been caught in Wisconsin than any other state."
DNR fisheries biologist John Kubisiak of Rhinelander said he handled muskies of 48.9 inches and 49.1 inches in his region's lakes this spring. Although 15 to 20 year old fish such as these remain relatively low in total numbers, they are exciting to see.
Muskellunge populations are low density. An average musky lake has one 30 inch or larger fish every 4 acres. This is about one-tenth the density of other gamefish species.
Kubisiak said he's seeing all sizes of fish in surveys and he's encouraged by some of the trends among younger fish.
"A healthy population will have a large number of younger, smaller fish coming up to provide tomorrow's trophy fishery," he said. "Many good musky waters rely on stocking, but the last 10 years or so have been good for natural muskellunge reproduction. In many of the waters I manage, we are seeing naturally reproduced muskies more frequently and sometimes in waters where I wouldn't have predicted it."
Weather conditions also may be shaping up well for the opening of the northern musky season, said Mike Vogelsang, DNR north district fisheries supervisor in Woodruff.
"For several weeks, we were stuck in an unusually cold weather pattern, but this week more summer-like weather has been moving in," Vogelsang said. "This should finally get water temperatures where they need to be for this time of year. Musky will be taking advantage of this, which will translate into active fishing."
Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927, do not need a license and resident members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty are entitled to obtain a free fishing license when on furlough or leave.
Buying a license is easy and convenient through the new Go Wild licensing system, with online access available 24-7. Visit GoWild.wi.gov, one of more than 1,000 vendor locations or a DNR service center to purchase licenses. Information about how to provide proof of your purchase may be found at dnr.wi.gov by searching "Go Wild."
MADISON - People heading out camping this Memorial Day weekend and through the summer can do their part to protect Wisconsin's urban and wildland trees by buying and burning firewood locally, and not moving it from location to location.
"Getting your firewood close to where you will use it reduces the risk that you will introduce an invasive pest or disease," says Andrea Diss-Torrance, forest health specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
For people camping at state parks and forests, state law requires that any firewood brought to a property be from within 10 miles of the campground, be from outside of a quarantined area in Wisconsin or another state [PDF], unless the property is also within a quarantine, or be certified by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture that it has been processed to kill potential pests and diseases hiding inside.
Most state park and forest campgrounds have firewood available for sale at campgrounds. Hours of firewood sales may vary by property. People can check on firewood availability by searching the Department of Natural Resources website for "find a park" and then clicking on a park or forest property and then the link for "camping information" on the right side navigation panel.
This year, on-the-go travelers will be able to use a new national, smartphone friendly Firewood Scout website, www.firewoodscout.org (exit DNR), to check if firewood is available at a state campground. The DNR has loaded firewood availability at state properties into the website, which is operated by a nonprofit organization established to help people buy firewood locally. Started in Michigan. Wisconsin is one of three states that has recently been added to the database.
In addition to listing what state properties have firewood available, the Firewood Scout also lists private vendors located within 10 miles of state properties. Private vendors list their own information on the website and the Department of Natural Resources does not verify the accuracy of the listings. If businesses have questions they may contact Kari Divine of Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development, which is helping coordinate Firewood Scout listings in Wisconsin, at 920-465-3006.
Firewood Scout also offers information on invasive species of concern and a set of questions consumers can ask to help assure the wood they purchase is at low risk for spreading invasive insects and diseases.
"People should be empowered with the necessary information to be part of the solution to the invasive species problem," Diss-Torrance said. "Buying local firewood is one way everyone can do their part to protect Wisconsin's forests. Remember to 'Buy It Where You Burn It,' and don't move firewood."
MADISON -- With the spring breeding season starting for many Wisconsin turtle species, Department of Natural Resources conservation biologists are asking citizens to submit their observations of where turtles and other wildlife are crossing roads, as well as where they're seeing turtle carcasses.
"We are getting roughly 300 volunteer reports of turtle sightings/road crossings per year in Wisconsin. These reports help identify problem areas and promote collaboration in future attempts to address them," says Andrew Badje, a DNR conservation biologist who coordinates the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program.
All Wisconsin turtles lay their eggs in nests in uplands and female turtles getting run over while trying to cross to nesting areas is considered one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin.
The loss of even one adult female turtle can have a large effect on future population numbers, especially in isolated populations or in species like the wood turtle that can take from 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive age, Badje says.
For more information about Wisconsin turtles or to report turtle crossings, search online for "Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program Website."
Information concerned citizens submitted about turtles crossing a stretch of Highway 66 in Potage County led to measures that allow turtles to safely cross from a wetland on the north side of the highway to the south side where they lay their eggs being incorporated into a resurfacing project this summer.
MADISON - Many landowners, gardeners, hikers and hunters are all too familiar with garlic mustard, this invasive species can spread quickly and Wisconsin's citizens are reminded to pursue aggressive management actions when possible.
"Garlic mustard is easily identifiable in the spring - it lives through the winter as low green rosettes and as soon as warm weather hits, it sends up a flowering stalk, usually about 2 1/2 feet tall," said Kelly Kearns, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plant conservationist. "It branches out, bearing many small four-petaled white flowers. Identification can be verified by crushing the leaves that smell of garlic."
Garlic mustard can significantly alter the composition of entire forests. When this species enters a woodland, it quickly spreads and can dominate the forest floor. Garlic mustard often displaces native wildflowers and ferns and many tree seedlings, and the wildlife that depend on them. It can even have an impact on mature trees as chemicals produced by the garlic mustard kill the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that tree roots need to absorb nutrients.
"Garlic mustard must be dealt with in an aggressive fashion, and control efforts should be conducted in spring before the plants flower. This can be done by hand-pulling, spraying, or burning," Kearns said.
Hand pulling is the easiest and most effective way to control new or small populations, and careful application of herbicide can be used to control larger populations. To more quickly get control of a population, it is best to also spray the rosettes in the fall. Running a flame over young seedlings is very effective, but should be done on a damp day, when the chance of fire spreading can be minimized.
Once they begin to flower, pulled garlic mustard plants left on the ground can continue to develop seeds. To avoid this, plants should be burned, buried or bagged. While Wisconsin has a law that does not allow yard waste to be landfilled, there is an exemption for garlic mustard and other legally prohibited and restricted invasive plants.
Several weeks after pulling or spraying, return to the site and remove any flowering plants that have since emerged. Garlic mustard seeds can remain viable in the soil for seven to 10 years. Forested sites without garlic mustard should be inspected for new infestations several times a year.
Informational brochures may be available at your local University of Wisconsin Extension office or DNR Service Center. For more information on garlic mustard and other invasive plants, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "invasives."
More garlic mustard photos are available on the DNR website.
MADISON - Spring and early summer is when the first wave of invasive plants are flowering and easiest to identify, and state officials say now is the time when they are asking the public to report occurrences of invasive plants.
Plants that are especially important to identify and report are those listed as prohibited by Wisconsin's invasive species regulation. Prohibited terrestrial species are those found in neighboring states that have not arrived in Wisconsin or have done so in small numbers.
"Citizen reporting of the early detection of prohibited species affords the best chance of eradicating these invasive species before they become established," said Kelly Kearns, native plant biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Officials are seeking early detection of the following species, listed in order of their flowering time:
People can submit photographs and reports of these and other early detection invasive species to Invasive.Species@wi.gov or via the Great Lakes Early Detection Network phone application (exit DNR).
Efforts to control and eradicate newly arrived, non-established invasive species in Wisconsin depend upon confirming known locations.
"We work closely with local groups to mount control efforts and would like to thank Wisconsin's citizens for their continued assistance," Kearns said.
For more information regarding terrestrial invasive plants in Wisconsin, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "invasive plants."
MADISON - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has received $1.3 million for continued funding of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program - these funds were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill and are administered and provided by U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
For those interested in making land available for public access, the VPA-HIP program provides opportunities to increase public access for quality hunting, fishing and wildlife observation on private lands. Currently, the program provides over 38,000 acres for wildlife-related recreation.
Financial incentives in the form of annual leases are available for private landowners who open their property to public hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife observation. Eligible land types include grassland, wetland, forestland, and in some cases, agricultural land. Land enrolled in conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement, and Managed Forest Law is eligible for VPA-HIP enrollment.
Annual lease payment rates based on land type are as follows:
Annual lease payments are completed in a lump sum payment at the beginning of the contract. Priority status is given to parcels greater than 40 acres in size with at least 25 percent usable cover and near properties currently open to public hunting and/or fishing.
VPA-HIP enrollees will also receive technical assistance for habitat enhancement practices, and landowners who complete recommended practices will be eligible for habitat-based financial incentive payments, in addition to the lease payments.
Interested landowners can contact Anne Reis, DNR VPA-HIP Coordinator, at 608-266-5463 or via email at Anne.Reis@wisconsin.gov.
DNR regional public access liaisons stationed in southern Wisconsin, along with Wisconsin's Farm Bill Biologists, will coordinate public access leases and a habitat plan for interested landowners:
Under state statute, landowners are generally immune from liability for injuries received by individuals recreating on their lands. Also, the department agrees to provide compensation for damages to property or crops that occur as a result of opening the land to public access.
MADISON - Each spring, Department of Natural Resources biologists and volunteers take to the field and complete surveys in order to learn more about Wisconsin's wildlife species.
Spring and summer surveys take place during all hours on designated roadside routes. Survey procedures may require biologists to make frequent stops for short, pre-determined periods of time, and motorists are reminded to be aware these ongoing survey efforts.
"Biologists and volunteers have worked together to complete annual roadside surveys, where they listen and record wildlife, since the 1960s," said Brian Dhuey, wildlife population and harvest assessment specialist. "These survey techniques are a tried and true way to take stock of wildlife throughout Wisconsin."
Survey results can be found online, and those interested in learning more about Wisconsin's wildlife species are encouraged to view these valuable data. Department staff would like to thank survey volunteers for their continued dedication to working closely in partnership with DNR and other key stakeholders.
MADISON -- Wisconsin landowners are reminded of an excellent opportunity to help other hunters enjoy Wisconsin's outdoors and sponsor a deer hunt for hunters with disabilities. The deadline for sponsor applications is June 1.
Potential sponsors must have at least 60 acres of land available, and are required to allow access for at least three hunters if they are contacted. In 2016, the disabled hunt will be held Oct. 1-9.
To complete an online application and learn more about this hunt, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "disabled deer hunt." Interested landowners without access to the online application can contact Mary Annala, DNR assistant big game ecologist, at 608-261-7588 or via email at Mary.Annala@Wisconsin.gov.
A complete list of sponsors will be available on the department's disabled deer hunt webpage after the June 1 deadline. Sponsors are required to submit a list of participants online or via mail no later than Sept. 1.
The Weekly News is updated every Tuesday at noon.
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