Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Sunset over lake © DNR File


A new DNR Public Access Lands Atlas is available online and in a printable format. The atlas highlights the significant increase in public access to Wisconsin lands made possible through the Knowles–Nelson Stewardship Program, as well as other lands open to the public for outdoor recreation.
© DNR File

April 2014

Public Access Lands Atlas opens the doors to the outdoors.

The DNR debuts search–friendly maps and so much more.

Dana Kampa

To improve public awareness and make it easier to find public lands in Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources now has a Public Access Lands Atlas (PAL Atlas) available online and in print. The PAL Atlas contains 441 maps, multiple indexes and other supporting information designed to help users find and explore public access lands in Wisconsin.

"The Department of Natural Resources, local governments and nonprofit conservation organizations own and manage over six million acres of land, most of which is available to the general public for outdoor recreation purposes," says DNR Bureau of Facilities and Lands Deputy Director Douglas Haag. "This atlas is a way to connect people who might use those lands with the people who actually own and manage the land. The hope is that the atlas will encourage people to explore more of Wisconsin's public land and spend more time outside enjoying Wisconsin's diverse natural and recreational resources."

Have you ever wanted to explore an area but were unsure what to expect? The PAL Atlas can help you with that.

The 465–page print version of the atlas allows readers to flip through maps across the state, making it easy to search a general area for planning outdoor trips. Legislation requires the Department of Natural Resources to print an updated version of the atlas every two years, but the department hopes to update the atlas more frequently.

Each map in the PAL Atlas displays information including major roads, villages, cities, township boundaries, section lines and water bodies. In addition, map users can find ramp and carry–in boat access sites, parking areas, state trails, local parks and federal and county forests. The maps also depict whether a parcel was purchased with funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

"The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program has been instrumental in setting aside valuable natural resources, state and local parks and providing places for people to hunt, trap, fish, ski and hike all across the state," says Bureau of Facilities and Lands Director Steve Miller. "The land acquisition component of the Stewardship program has been the backbone of Wisconsin's public lands program for 25 years and the new PAL Atlas will help people easily identify lands purchased with Stewardship funds and get out and enjoy them."

The PAL Atlas also is broken into printable county maps. These county maps allow users to download and print specific portions without having to purchase the entire document. According to Haag, people are already commenting on the usefulness of these county maps.

In addition, the PAL Atlas contains a handy index of public agencies and nonprofit conservation organizations that own land depicted in the atlas. This index will allow users to contact these organizations directly or go to their websites to gain more information about a specific property.

"It is important that anyone using the atlas checks with the government agency or conservation organization that owns the land for allowable uses and any regulations that might apply on the property," Haag says.

The PAL Atlas also is available to users online as an interactive mapping application on the department's website. The online version allows users to search areas across the state and create their own custom maps. When browsing a general area, online viewers can zoom in and out to a scale that is most useful to them, or use various features on the toolbar to create useful maps that can be printed on your home computer. Experiment with the online mapping tool and its many features to develop custom maps that reflect your own personal recreational interests, then print them and off you go!

Are you looking for a specific park, lake or hunting ground? You find these features by using a search bar located at the top of the page. The results of your search will show up on the "results" screen. Click on the "Zoom to Feature" link to go directly to the highlighted area. For more specific searching, users can click on the "Find Location" button and enter the name of a city, lake or other feature or use this tool to search by town, range and section.

Maybe you are looking for a new place to hunt or a place to go cross-country skiing for the weekend. Online users of the PAL Atlas can click on the "DNR Explore Outdoors" button on the tool bar at the top of the web map. This takes you to a searchable database to find lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources that offer the activities you are searching for. Explore Outdoors allows you to conduct searches for specific activities within 25, 50 or 100 miles of any Wisconsin city. The list of searchable activities includes ATV riding, fishing, hunting, trapping, camping and wildlife viewing to name just a few.

"The PAL Atlas and Explore Outdoor work well together," Haag says. "The department will continue to build its database of activities which will lead to more ways to share information about Wisconsin's public lands in the future."

"I am proud to offer this extensive directory of 441 maps to help you find and enjoy Wisconsin's diverse public lands," DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp says. "I hope you create many new outdoor memories with friends and family through the use of this atlas."

Rock Cave at Wyalusing State Park covered with snow and ice. © DNR File
© DNR File

The PAL Atlas

The PAL Atlas is available on the DNR website. Go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/PAL/. Here you can create your own online map, download individual county PDF maps for free and search for places based on outdoor activities. You can also find a link to buy the 465–page print version of the PAL Atlas. The complete print version, titled "Public Access Lands Atlas of Wisconsin" is available for $89.95, or on a CD for $5.95 and can be purchased through The University Book Store.

Dana Kampa is a communications specialist in the DNR's Office of Communication and studies journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.