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Roche-A-Cri State Park Nature

Roche-A-Cri State Park is in Wisconsin's Central Sand Plains, an area that was covered by Glacial Lake Wisconsin more than a million years ago. The Roche-A-Cri mound was an island in the lake.

Natural Areas

Roche-A-Cri Mound State Natural Area is a 25-acre parcel within the park that contains Roche-A-Cri mound with a mixed forest of old-growth pine and oak on the surrounding sandy terrain and talus slope. This mound is a late Cambrian sandstone outlier mesa rock outcrop and was once a rocky island in Glacial Lake Wisconsin. The summit now stands about 300 feet above the central sands plain. Its distinct long, narrow shape, the large cleft in the southern face, and flat-topped ridge bordered by craggy, precipitous cliffs made it a landmark for early travelers. A variety of early Native American petroglyphs and pictographs at the base of the southern face are easily viewed from an accessible platform. Turkey vultures use this high mound as a summer roost site.

Roche-A-Cri Woods State Natural Area is both in the park and adjoining it on the east side of State Highway 13. Large white pine, white oak, black oak, red pine, and red oak dominate this 442-acre parcel. A diverse ground layer contains at least 220 plant species. A forest of silver maple, green ash, and basswood border Carter Creek, a class II trout stream, which meanders through the area. Two native species prairies have been established in the eastern part of this natural area.

Prairie and savanna restorations

Adams County was part of the original major region of prairies and open savannas in Wisconsin. Oak barrens and oak savannas were most typical types of prairie in the central sands area. Oak savannas are grasslands with occasional large oak trees predominating, while prairies are large grasslands without trees.

Without fire and grazing, forests replaced the open savannas and prairies. The change in habitat meant the loss of habitat for grassland songbirds, certain game birds, such as grouse and ring-necked pheasants, other insects and reptiles.

Roche-A-Cri State Park has several areas of prairie restoration. The Friends of Roche-A-Cri State Park have developed a prairie south of the park on Czech Avenue. Parking is available and a trail will lead you through the prairie. The trail has a gravel base for easy access and has an interpretive sign.

Toad on red mushroom
A toad demonstrates why mushrooms sometimes are called toadstools.

Benches are along the way to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the prairie. The most common prairie grasses seen include little bluestem, June grass, Indian grass, and big bluestem. Forbs, or flowering plants, include lupine, thimbleweed, butterfly weed, sky blue asters, round-headed bush clover, blazing star, bergamot, dotted mint, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susans, various goldenrods, and spiderworts. Another area of prairie is being restored in the natural area east of the park.

In spring, when weather permits, prescribed burns are used to remove brush, leaves and dead grasses. Studies have shown that doing this encourages the re-establishment of prairie grasses and plants whose root systems and seeds are in the soil.

Some native prairie seeds have been planted. Seeds are obtained from a nursery specializing in prairie plants of this area, from Bureau of Endangered Resource sites, and through collection of seeds from the existing prairie areas here.

Last revised: Wednesday October 03 2012