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Contact information
For information on State Natural Areas, contact:
Thomas Meyer
Natural areas conservation biologist

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Olson Oak Woods (No. 157)

Olson Oak Woods

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer


Overview

Location

Within the Madison School Forest, Dane County. T5N-R8E, Section 5, 6. T6N-R8E, Sections 31, 32. 192 acres.

Description

Description

Olson Oak Woods lies about three miles west of the Johnstown terminal moraine on a divide between branches of the upper Sugar River. The large southern dry forest features white and black oaks with black cherry, bur oak, red oak, hickory, elm, and basswood. Scattered open-grown oaks dating to the 1750’s and frequent multiple-stemmed trees from the 1840’s remain as evidence of the former savanna conditions and occurrence of fire. Occasional ironwood, elm, sugar maple, and basswood occur in ravines, on hills, and on the remains of shaly limestone ridges. The richer valleys and ridges of loess and shale have better soil and support red oaks. On ridges with thin, dry soils over St. Peter sandstone abundant reproduction of white, red, and black oaks occurs. Bedrock ridges and sinkholes, perhaps collapsed limestone caves, follow the ravine bottom and are scattered throughout. Nearly 300 species of vascular plants have been observed including polypody and fragile ferns on the 6-7 foot high sandstone cliffs. Other species include blackberry, hazelnut, gray dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, sweet cicely, wild geranium, tick-trefoil, false solomon’s-seal, bedstraw, and lady fern. Several species of prairie plants persist on the open, sandy slopes including big blue-stem, spiderwort, shooting-star, and lead-plant. The site is home to over 40 species of breeding birds. Olson Oak Woods is owned by the Madison Metropolitan School District and DNR. It was designated a State Natural Area in 1980.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of U.S. Highway 151 and State Highway 69 in Verona, go south on Highway 69 about 1.2 miles, then west on Riverside Road 2 miles, then south on Fritz Road 1 mile to a parking lot east of the road. Several trails wind through the site.

Hunting is prohibited on the Madison School Forest lands (DNR easement land). Bow hunting only is allowed on the 20- acre DNR land located on the north edge of the property. Please see the topographic map under the "Maps" tab.

Ownership

Olson Oak Woods is owned by:

  • Madison Metropolitan School District
  • WDNR

Maps

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.

Objectives

Site objectives

Manage the site as a reserve for southern dry-mesic forest, oak woodland and oak opening, and as an ecological reference area. Most of the site is part of the Madison School Forest, with active management in place to develop oak woodland and oak opening on portions of the property. On the state-owned 20 acres, however, natural processes will determine the structure of the forest. Note: It is understood that over the course of time, the oak component will decrease under a passive management regime. Other State Natural Areas, however, are managed to maintain an old-growth oak cover type. Both management scenarios are needed as ecological reference areas.

Management approach

The native species on state-owned land are managed passively, which allows nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the site. The dry-mesic forest will be allowed to convert over time to a more mesic forest condition. The native species on Madison School Forest land are mostly managed actively. An ongoing research project is designed to determine effects of different management regimes on development of oak woodland and savanna characteristics: thinning via timber harvest, fire and thinning, fire only, and zero management (as a control). Other allowable activities across the entire site include control of invasive plants and animals and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event is not considered compatible with management objectives.

Site-specific considerations

  • Utility corridor management occurs sporadically within the utility easement area.
  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near trails and roads is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible.

Recreation

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.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities: all SNAs

  • Camping and campfires
  • 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
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

Last revised: Thursday, October 19, 2017