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

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Rush Creek (No. 170)

Rush Creek

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer


Overview

Location

Crawford County. T10N-R6W, Sections 5, 6, 7. T10N-R7W, Section 1. T11N-R6W, Sections 19, 21, 28-33. T11N-R7W, Sections 11, 25, 36. 2,845 acres.

Description

Description

The outstanding feature of Rush Creek is a two-mile long series of dry lime prairies situated on the steep southwest facing limestone-capped bluffs of the Mississippi River. These “goat prairies”, named for their steep, rocky terrain, are part of the most extensive dry prairie remnants left in the state. While most Wisconsin prairies were lost to the plow or development, Rush Creek’s steepness and dry southwestern exposure are largely responsible for its preservation. Characteristic plants include lead-plant, little blue-stem, side-oats grama, silky aster, blazing-star, wood betony, compass plant, and bird’s-foot violet. The narrow north and east-facing slopes bluff tops are forested with red and white oak and a significant amount of black walnut, hickory, basswood, sugar maple, and aspen. Common shrubs and mid-canopy species include gray and round-leaved dogwood, American hazelnut, sumac, and ironwood with a good diversity of woodland herbs and forbs. The spring-fed Rush Creek is cool and clear and supports a floodplain forest of silver and red maples, elm, cottonwood, river birch, and willow. The extensive nature and diversity of vegetation make Rush Creek important habitat for numerous rare plants and animals. Rare plants include purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), hairy meadow-parsnip (Thaspium barbinode), broad beech fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera), and Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioica). Rare animals include wing snaggletooth (Gastrocopta procera), Kentucky (Oporornis formosus) and cerulean warblers (Dendroica cerulea), Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), and the gorgonne checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne gorgone). Rush Creek is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1981.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of State Highway 35 and County Highway C in Ferryville, go north on Highway 35 3.1 miles, then northeast on Rush Creek Road 0.5 mile to a parking area west of the road. Cross the road and walk east on an access lane to the bluff top. Or, continue north on 35 from its junction with Rush Creek Road 0.8 miles to a parking area. Walk up the slope.

Ownership

Rush Creek is owned by:

  • 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 oak woodland, dry prairie reserve, floodplain forest and southern dry-mesic forest, as a significant archaeological site, as an oak savanna and prairie restoration site, as a wetland protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the forests, along with prescribed understory manipulation in the oak woodland and prairie (see below). [Note: It is understood that over the course of time, the oak component will decrease in the dry-mesic forest 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.] Another objective is to provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native oak woodlands and dry prairies.

Management approach

The ecological characteristics of the prairie and oak woodland areas 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 may be retained at low densities (oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut). 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, utilizing 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. In the southern dry-mesic forest and floodplain forest, the native species 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. Other allowable activities across the entire site include control of invasive plants and animals, 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.

Site-specific considerations

  • A Wisconsin DOT scenic easement is in place along Highway 35; the area may be managed sporadically by state.
  • Roadside easement area may be managed sporadically by the county and township.
  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near trails and field roads is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible.

Management

Management objectives and prescriptions

  • Conduct prescribed burns to enhance the prairie and savanna.
  • Remove brush from the prairie, savanna and especially the edge.
  • Remove invasive species, especially garlic mustard and teasel.
  • Convert the sharecrop fields to prairie, savanna, and forest land.
  • Provide and maintain access points, informational and boundary signs.
  • Continue to acquire land within the project boundary.

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.

Allowable activities

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

  • 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
  • Geocaching

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

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Last revised: Tuesday, March 21, 2017