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At turn of the 20th century, dredge and drain efforts changed Horicon landscapeNew exhibits at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center

Horicon Marsh Education Center Renovation

Information for Educators

To arrange for a field trip or group visit, contact: Liz Herzmann at 920-387-7893. The Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center welcomes schools, community groups and others interested in topics ranging from geology and history to biology and modern wildlife management. Programs combine classroom work with outdoor sample collection and observation.

The center, operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, will open a $3.7 million expansion on August 22, 2015 featuring interactive exhibits, historic artifacts, wildlife displays and more.

The center can accommodate groups of 15 to 100 with instruction geared for K-12 and special opportunities for university and community groups, including use of the theater.

Friends of Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center help by providing financial and volunteer support to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service co-manage the Horicon Marsh

The Wisconsin DNR manages the southern third of the marsh, known as the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area; it totals 11,000 acres and serves as home to the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the northern 22,000 acre Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

Stretching into Dodge and Fond du Lac counties, Horicon Marsh is fed by the Rock River and is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States. It serves as a critical rest stop for thousands of migrating ducks and Canada geese and is recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.

Visitors today have the chance to see some of the 300 species that at some time call the marsh home. They can also enjoy numerous trails for hiking and snowshoeing and launch canoes and kayaks at four boat landings.

Historic attempts at farming Horicon Marsh ended in frustration

With waterfowl and wildlife populations severely depleted following the heyday of market hunting, Horicon Marsh settlers searched for solutions to reinvigorate the community. Seizing on the idea of converting the wetland to farmland, an effort to ditch and drain the marsh for agriculture got underway in 1910 with the help of a giant, steam-powered dredge.

Visitors to the marsh today can still see evidence of those efforts - a main ditch 14 miles long and 60 feet wide flanked by lateral ditches placed at one mile intervals to help drain the water. This network of ditches was completed in 1916 and can still be seen today.

In addition to exploring the remaining physical traces of this ditch work, visitors to the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center will be able to learn more about the early attempts at farming from a dramatic new series of interactive exhibits and displays.

Visitors to the new exhibits will learn why efforts to convert the marsh to agriculture were ultimately doomed to fail. Once drained, the peat soil contained few nutrients and in most years, was too wet for farmers to plant the fields. The plantings of onions, carrots, potatoes and other crops never produced the expected yields.

Worse, following a prolonged dry spell, the peat soil caught on fire. Due to the high carbon content of the peat, some of the fires smoldered for years. After witnessing more than a decade of failed farming attempts and seeing the scorched landscape, the remaining residents were ready for a change.

Horicon Marsh Education Center Renovation

Land Ethic

The Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center works to instill a land ethic centered on respect for the plants, animals, waters and lands that make up the marsh community. In highlighting the interconnected nature of the marsh environment, the center explores the many ways in which the rich wetland has sustained both hunter and hunted through the ages.

Today, the marsh continues to play a leading role in the health and well-being of the region, providing a wealth of environmental, educational, recreational and economic benefits.

Horicon Education Center Timeline