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For information on State Natural Areas, contact:
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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Clifford Messinger Dry Prairie & Savanna Preserve (No. 230)

Clifford Messinger Dry Prairie & Savanna Preserve

Photo by Ron Kurowski


Overview

Location

Within Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Jefferson, Walworth and Waukesha County. 254 acres.

Description

Description

Stretching across more than 20 miles of kettle moraine topography of kettle holes, interlobate moraine, and outwash plains in southeastern Wisconsin, this preserve consists of multiple sites containing prairie and oak opening communities. Each site has a unique flora which together characterize the presettlement flora of the region. The prairies are dominated by big and little blue-stems, Indian grass, prairie drop-seed, and side-oats grama. Flowering plants include pasque flower, bird's foot violet, purple prairie-clover, hoary puccoon, old field goldenrod, and blazing-star. The Whitewater Oak Opening, covering 120 acres of rugged morainal topography, is dominated by bur oak on the ridge tops and south- and southwest-facing slopes, by red oak on the north facing slopes, and by white oak in other places. Like the few other remnant oak openings in the state, it has been invaded by shrubs and other woody growth over the years, especially honeysuckle and prickly ash. However, a wildfire in the 1950's opened up the site to a certain extent, and this natural fire is being mimicked by prescribed burning, reinstating this crucial process of the oak opening ecosystem. Messinger Dry Prairie and Savanna is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1990.

Access

Driving directions

The preserve encompasses multiple units. See the maps for more information or contact the State Natural Areas Program for assistance.

Ownership

Clifford Messinger Dry Prairie & Savanna Preserve 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 an oak opening and dry prairie preserve and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed understory manipulation (see below) will determine the structure of the savanna and prairies. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native dry prairies and oak openings.

Management approach

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 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 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

  • 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.
  • Roadside easement areas may be managed sporadically by township and/or county.

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