Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Blue River Sand Barrens State Natural Area  State Natural Area: Thomas Meyer

Blue River Sand Barrens State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

April 2014

Wisconsin, naturally

Blue River Sand Barrens State Natural Area

Thomas A. Meyer, State Natural Areas Program

Notable: Visit Blue River Sand Barrens to discover “Wisconsin’s Desert” and the plants and animals adapted to its hot, arid conditions. “Sand barrens” is a term ecologists use to describe a stunted plant community that evolved on nutrient-poor, droughty soils — in this case, the sandy terraces along the lower Wisconsin River near the village of Blue River. It’s not uncommon for the surface temperature of the barrens on a hot, sunny, July day to exceed more than 150 degrees. Prickly pear cactus, false heather, rock spikemoss, sand cress, earthstar fungus and a host of lichens are among the interesting species found here and adapted to the challenging growing conditions. In late spring, the masses of blooming prickly-pear cacti (yes, they’re native!) with their 3-inch wide, papery yellow flowers, are a wonderful sight. Six-lined racerunner lizards, hognose snakes, wolf spiders, tiger beetles, and ground-dwelling, parasitic sand wasps are regular visitors while turtles from the adjacent Wisconsin River wetlands nest in the dunes.

How to get there: Within the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. From the intersection of State Highway 133 and County Highway T in Blue River (Grant County), go east on 133 for 1.9 miles, then north on Wightman Road 0.25 miles to the southeast corner of the area. Park along the road and walk west into the natural area. The site is owned and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Blue River Sand Barrens” for a map and more information.