Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Genesee Oak Opening and Fen State Natural Area: Thomas Meyer

Genesee Oak Opening and Fen State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

February 2014

Wisconsin, naturally

Genesee Oak Opening and Fen State Natural Area

Thomas A. Meyer, State Natural Areas Program

Notable: Southeastern Wisconsin's glacially sculpted landscape provides the scenic setting for Genesee Oak Opening and Fen, a small, but classic example of a bur oak savanna and its adjoining wetland. When the Lake Michigan and Green Bay lobes of the last glacier plowed together and then retreated 10,000 years ago, they left in their wakes a rough and jumbled topography of kettle holes, gravelly knobs and rugged ridges. This "interlobate moraine" is composed of glacial debris — rock, sand and gravel — carried by the ice from as far away as northern Canada. The savanna at Genesee features scattered groves of shagbark hickory, bur oak and white oak interspersed with patches of dry prairie filled with side–oats grama grass, big and little bluestem, white camass, prairie smoke and spring–blooming pasque flower. At the base of the moraine to the east lies a wetland complex of mesic prairie grading into sedge meadow and fen, a wetland type characterized by soils rich in calcium and magnesium. During the growing season, look for shrubby cinquefoil, prairie dock, shooting–star, bottle gentian and marsh blazing–star, a plant species of special concern. Genesee Creek flows through the natural area, adding ecological diversity to the site and providing habitat for aquatic animals such as the Blanding’s turtle and pickerel frog.

How to get there: From the junction of County Highway E and State Highway 59 in North Prairie (Waukesha County), go north on 59 for about 2.4 miles, then west on an unmarked gravel access lane to its end. Walk west on the lane into the natural area. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search "Genesee Oak Opening" for a map and more information. The site is managed by DNR’s Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation.