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

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Rock River Prairie (No. 289)

Rock River Prairie

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer


Overview

Location

Rock County. T1N-R12E, Section 2. 37 acres.

Description

Description

Rock River Prairie is a dry prairie situated on the rolling terrace above the Rock River and contains large populations of prairie forbs and grasses including several rare and threatened plants. The prairie harbors over 50 native prairie species including the pasque flower, which carpets the steep east-facing slope in the spring. In May, large numbers of cream wild indigo and rock sandwort bloom while in September the hills are covered with prairie gentian. These species may reach their highest density in Rock County at this site. The prairie also contains rare plants including one of Wisconsin’s largest populations of the state-endangered wild petunia (Ruellia humilis). Other rare plants include prairie bush-clover (Lespedeza leptostachya), woolly milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa) and prairie thistle (Cirsium hillii). The rare prairie false dandelion (Microseris cuspidata) was recently rediscovered at the site after the reintroduction of fire and other management activities. Dominant grasses include little blue-stem and side-oats grama with prairie drop-seed. More common forbs present include silky aster, shooting-star, prairie-smoke, bird’s-foot violet, smooth yellow flax, fringed puccoon, and spiderwort. The site has a previous history of grazing and more recently has decreased in size due to woody species encroachment. Management activity such as brushing and burning will help maintain the openness and integrity of the native prairie. Rock River Prairie is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1999.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of U.S. Highway 51 and State Highway 81 in Beloit, go north on Highway 51 5.5 miles, then west on W. Town Line Road 1.1 miles, then south on Walters Road one mile to a parking area east of the road.

Ownership

Rock River Prairie 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 dry 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.

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 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.

Site-specific considerations

  • Roadside easement area may be managed sporadically by township.

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: Monday, August 14, 2017