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

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Ferry Bluff (No. 217)

Ferry Bluff

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer


Overview

Location

Within the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Sauk County. T9N-R6E, Sections 19, 20, 30. 400 acres.

Description

Description

Ferry Bluff and the adjacent Cactus Bluff tower more than 300 feet above the confluence of Honey Creek and the Wisconsin River. The sandstone bluffs, capped with dolomite harbors undisturbed open cliff vegetation, prairie remnants, and steep wooded slopes of white and red oaks with with basswood, hackberry, elm, hickory, and ironwood. Although the forest on the summit and north-facing slopes is relatively young, the groundlayer is rich, with many ferns on the slopes and a diverse spring flora throughout. Prairie species remain especially on the dry south-facing slopes and include the rare round-stemmed false foxglove (Agalinis gattingeri). The moist shaded cliffs contain a diversity of species including many ferns such as fragile and bulbet fern. Rare animals include Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), and black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta). Ferry Bluff is the site of a former peregrine falcon eyrie and continues to be an important winter roosting site for the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The base of the Ferry Bluff also housed a Civil War era ferryboat landing. Ferry Bluff is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1988.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of Highways 60 and 12 west of Sauk City, go west on Highway 60 4.4 miles then south on Ferry Bluff Road 1.1 miles to a parking area and canoe landing at the end of the road. A trail leads to the top of Cactus Bluff. Legal access by land to the southern unit, known as Hugo's Bluff, is unresolved at this time and is accessible only by watercraft until further notice.

The entire northern unit, consisting of Ferry Bluff and Cactus Bluff, is closed to all entry from November 15 to April 1 to protect roosting bald eagles. The southern unit is open at all times.

Ownership

Ferry Bluff 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.

Management

Site objectives

Manage the site as an oak woodland and dry prairie reserve, an archaeological feature protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the dry-mesic forest, along with prescribed understory manipulation in the oak woodland (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.

Management approach

In the oak woodland and native dry prairie, 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. The mostly passive canopy management and understory manipulation will determine the ecological characteristics of the oak woodland. In the southern dry-mesic 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. The Native American effigy mounds are managed according to Department policy and existing state and federal legislation. This especially includes avoiding disturbance of the burial sites with the establishment of a "no disturbance" buffer zone within 15 feet of their perimeter or base. Vegetation on and around these features is generally managed in the same manner as the natural communities within which they occur. However, removal of trees and shrubs from burial areas (without any ground disturbance, e.g., stump pulling or vehicle use) and within the 15-foot buffer zone is generally desirable to protect them from windthrow, and to encourage growth of groundcover that helps prevent erosion. Selected trees may be retained for forestry purposes, or when unavoidable mound damage would occur during tree removal, or for other management purposes. Sites covered by grasses may be periodically mowed, burned and sprayed to maintain existing groundcover and to limit woody succession. The Departmental Archaeologist reviews all proposals for DNR-proposed activities within the buffered burial area.

Site-specific considerations

  • Roadside easement area may be managed sporadically by township.
  • The access trail to the bluff overlook requires frequent maintenance activities. Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near trails 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.

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, 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

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

Last revised: Friday, November 14, 2014