- Natural areas
- Contact information
- For information on State Natural Areas, contact:
- Thomas Meyer
Natural areas conservation biologist
Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Empire Prairies (No. 146)
Dane and Columbia Counties. T8N-R9E, Section 11. T8N-R8E, Section 27. T9N-R9E, Sections 28, 19. T11N-R10E, Sections 24, 28. 202 acres.
Empire Prairies contains five prairie remnants and a small oak opening that were once part of the extensive Empire Prairie stretching across southern Columbia and northern Dane counties. Oriented on a northeast to southwest-oriented glacially sculpted ridge is Westport Drumlin Prairie -- a small but diverse prairie containing more than 100 native plant species. A small area of oak opening, with open-grown bur oaks, occupies the western point of the ridge. Although the drumlin wears a thin mantle of glacial till, as evidenced by rounded boulders scattered about, limestone bedrock fragments and small outcrops at the drumlin's summit attest to the limited terra-forming action of glacial ice on this ridge. Several showy plant species are present including pasque flower, cream wild indigo, rough blazing-star, yellow coneflower, shooting-star, bird's-foot violet, compass plant, rosinweed, goldenrods, and asters. Dominant grasses are big and little blue-stem, Indian grass, side oats grama, needle grass, and prairie drop-seed. Populations of the federally-threatened prairie bush-clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) and the rare prairie false dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) are present. The red-tailed prairie leafhopper (Aflexia rubranura), a state-endangered insect that feeds exclusively on prairie dropseed, is also found here. Located the Mud Lake Wildlife Area, the Hagen Prairie Unit supports a diversity of plants and features an outstanding display of shooting stars. While most plants are typical dry-mesic species, wet-mesic species are also present including swamp milkweed and prairie blazing star. Also on the wildlife area is the Mud Lake Prairie Unit, a mesic prairie that will be managed as an ecological reference site. The Koch Prairie Unit is located on an isolated hill surrounded by cropland. The hill is dolomite bedrock with glacial till near its base. This dry-mesic remnant contains more than 60 native species and is dominated by prairie drop-seed. The Hauser Road unit is owned and managed by The Prairie Enthusiasts. Over 100 native plant species are still present here along with prairie insects and grassland birds such as meadowlarks, bobolinks and grasshopper sparrows. Empire Prairies is owned by the DNR, The Prairie Enthusiasts and private landowners. It was designated a State Natural Area in 1984.
For the Westport Drumlin Prairie Unit: From the intersection of Highway 113 and County M, just north of Lake Mendota, go north on 113 1.7 miles, then east on Bong Road 0.8 mile to a parking lot on the north side of the road. For the Hagen Prairie Unit: From the intersection of State Highway 16 and County Trunk C in Rio, go south on C 2 miles, then west on Hanson Road 1 mile, then south on Hagen Road 0.18 mile. Park along the road and walk east on an old farm lane into the natural area. For the Mud Lake Unit: From the intersection of State Highway 51 and County CS Poynette, go east on County CS 3.7 miles, then south on Highway 22 0.7 miles, then east on King Road 0.6 miles to a DNR parking area north of the road. The site lies south of the road in the southeast corner of the property. For the Hauser Road Unit: From the intersection of State Highways 113 and 19, go north on 113, 2.5 miles, then east and north on Madigan Road 0.9 miles, then east 0.4 miles on Hauser Road. The prairie lies south of the road. There is no legal public access to the Koch Prairie Unit at this time.
Empire Prairies is owned by:
The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.
The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.
Manage the site as a reserve for dry/dry-mesic prairie and oak opening, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed fire will determine the structure of the site's natural communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native prairies and oak openings.
The ecological characteristics of the site will be primarily shaped by an intensive fire management program. The native prairie species are managed actively through tree/shrub control using tree harvest, brushing and especially fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Occasional fire-tolerant woody species such as oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut may be retained at low densities. The native dominant savanna tree species (primarily oaks) are managed passively. However, some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Augmentation of the ground layer will only add species that historically would have been found on the site, using seeds or plugs from local genetic material; this usually occurs in the early stages of restoration. The mostly passive canopy management and understory manipulation will determine the ecological characteristics of the savanna. Other allowable activities throughout the site include control of invasive plants and animals, augmentation of native prairie species after careful review, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event can occur if the volume of woody material inhibits fire prescriptions.
Management objectives and prescriptions
- A new Master Plan for this property is currently being developed in concert with other DNR properties. Links to property descriptions, maps and information about the master planning process and schedule are available at Property Master Planning
Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.
Hunting and trapping
This SNA has multiple landowners: Opportunities for hunting and trapping depend on the land owner. In general, most DNR-owned land allows hunting and trapping. Partner-owned land may have other rules (for example, university-owned lands do not allow hunting or trapping). Please contact them directly to find out about their rules for hunting and trapping. You can find a link to other owner websites under the "Resource links" heading above. More details regarding allowable uses on the non-DNR land may be found under the "Access" tab above, if available.
Allowable activities: DNR-owned land
In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.
- Cross country skiing
Prohibited activities: all SNAs
- Horseback riding
- Rock climbing
- Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use
- Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
- Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
- Camping and campfires
For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]