Contact(s): Drew Feldkirchner, 608-235-3905 or Thomas Meyer, 608-266-0394
MADISON - A portion of Pewits Nest State Natural Area in Sauk County has been closed to protect public safety and prevent further degradation at a site renowned for vegetated cliffs along a scenic gorge, waterfalls and pools formed during the retreat of the last glacier some 12,000 years ago.
"We are closing part of Pewits Nest Natural Area out of concern for the safety of our visitors," says Drew Feldkirchner, who leads DNR's Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, which oversees Wisconsin's State Natural Areas program.
"Social media has exponentially increased the number of people coming to the site, climbing the cliffs and jumping into the water. We don't want to see any more people get hurt. People will still be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the view from the top of the cliff and from the gorge outlet, as well as hiking and birdwatching," he says. "Closing this portion allows us to meet our responsibility to protect public safety and the integrity of these geologic formations and plant communities, while allowing people to experience this special place."
Emergency medical responders have already been called to the site at least once this year to help an injured visitor, and have responded numerous times in recent years to tend to people injured while climbing the rocks or jumping into the pools. This puts these rescue professionals at risk given the difficulties of trying to extract the injured from the gorge, at considerable expense to the local community.
The closure is also being done to prevent further degradation of the site, which features a 30-40 foot deep gorge cut through sandstone and a series of potholes and low waterfalls, Feldkirchner says. People climbing the cliffs have compacted the soil, destroyed vegetation, lit campfires, left trash and defaced the sandstone cliffs.
State natural areas, created through an effort led by renowned Wisconsin conservationists including Aldo Leopold, are established to protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin's native landscapes, including significant geological formations and archeological sites. Pewit's Nest was designated as a state natural area in 1985.
"We encourage low-impact use by the public, along with preservation and research, but these places were never intended to be intensive use areas like this one has become," Feldkirchner says.
Temporary signs mark the closed area. Climbing on rock walls, cliff jumping or entering the closed area for any reason is prohibited, and violators will be subject to a $175 citation. Visitors are also prohibited from bringing in food or beverage or being on the property between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Fines for violations of those rules range from $175 to $200.
The temporary signs marking the closed area will eventually be replaced with rustic, permanent barriers and walkways that will be more aesthetically fitting for the site, Feldkirchner says. As well, two scenic overlooks are planned.