Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area: Thomas Meyer

Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

October 2013

Wisconsin, naturally

Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area

Thomas A. Meyer, State Natural Areas Program

Notable: In autumn, the plants of summer lose their green pigment, revealing earthy hues of red, brown, orange, russet and gold. At Hardscrabble Prairie, a diversity of prairie grasses and “forbs” (flowering herbaceous plants) brighten the steep, rocky bluff come late September. The hillside faces north; an unusual exposure for the dry prairie community typically found on sunny, warmer southern and western slopes. Look for showy goldenrod, round–headed bush clover, and asters among the little bluestem and side–oats grama grasses. Especially attractive is prairie dropseed, appearing as a fountain of fine orange grass blades erupting from a central tuft. During the spring and summer, the 160–acre nature preserve provides refuge for many butterfly species, including the very rare ottoe skipper. Great–spangled fritillary, meadow fritillary, painted lady, and silver–spotted skipper are among the common butterflies that also live here. Birds using the site include yellow–billed cuckoo, white–eyed vireo, great–crested lycatcher, brown thrasher and field sparrow. Overgrown oak savanna surrounds the prairie openings at Hardscrabble, and the Scrabble Branch of the Galena River bisects the northern part of the natural area. Wetlands along the creek harbor a small population of the state–endangered Blanchard’s cricket frog.

How to get there: From the intersection of highways 80 and W in Hazel Green, go east on Highway W for 0.7 miles, then south on Crawford Lane. Park in the cul–du–sac at the municipal sewage treatment plant. Look for the SNA sign, and walk south and west into the natural area. There are no designated trails at the site.