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

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Fern Dell Gorge (No. 407)

Interrupted fern

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer

Resource links:

Mirror Lake State Park


Overview

Location

Within Mirror Lake State Park, Sauk County. T13-R6E, Section 31.

Description

Description

Fern Dell Gorge features a small but spectacular gorge cut into Upper Cambrian sandstone. The narrow mile long gorge is a tributary to the larger Mirror Lake gorge. According to geologic interpretations, Dell Creek eroded the Mirror Lake gorge after the creek was diverted northeastward to the Wisconsin River by the terminal moraine and outwash deposits of the glacier. Thus, the lower reaches of Dell Creek are post-glacial and geologically young, characterized by rock-walled gorges. The vertical cliffs are shaded and moss covered, but predominantly exposed and dry, with seepages along their bases. The moist, cool microclimate within the gorge is partly responsible for the rich diversity of both northern and southern plant species found within the site. The name "Fern Dell" is quite appropriate and derives from the great variety of ferns including bulblet, lady, fragile, Goldie's, interrupted, maidenhair, northern beech, oak, polypody, and silvery spleenwort. The cliffs and lower slopes along Mirror Lake gorge are forested with white pine and red pine. Blueberries, huckleberry, trailing arbutus, and moccasin flower comprise the understory with Labrador tea present on the ledges of east-facing cliffs. Red oak, basswood, and yellow birch dominate the valley floor; red pine, Jack pine, and white oak dominate the dry forest above and along Fern Dell. Fern Dell Gorge is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2003.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of I-90/94 and State Highway 12 in Wisconsin Dells, go west on 12 0.5 mile, then west on Fern Dell Road 1.5 miles to the park entrance. Get a park map at the contact station.

Ownership

Fern Dell Gorge 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 forested gorge reserve and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the forest. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native forested gorges.

Management approach

The native dominant tree species (primarily pines and oaks) are managed passively. Exceptions include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress fires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event is not considered compatible with management objectives.

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

  • 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
  • Drone use, unless authorized by a SNA research permit
  • 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]

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Last revised: Thursday, October 19, 2017