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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Rush River Delta (No. 202)

Rush River Delta

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer



Pierce County. T24N-R16W, Section 16, 17. 400 acres.



Rush River Delta protects a floodplain forest on the alluvial plain at the mouth of the Rush River where it empties into the Mississippi River's Lake Pepin. The area supports stands of lowland hardwoods including silver maple, cottonwood, willow, American elm, and green ash. Large patches of wood nettle dominate the groundlayer. Several open, wet depressions are vegetated with river bulrush and smartweed and provide excellent spawning habitat for northern pike and rearing areas for mallards and wood ducks. A sand spit extends into Lake Pepin at the Rush River mouth and provides feeding and nesting areas for shorebirds. Woodland birds include yellow-throated vireo, warbling vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher, American redstart, and northern oriole. Rush River Delta is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1986.


Driving directions

From the intersection of State Highway 35 and County Highway S in Maiden Rock, go west on 35 1.3 miles to a parking area at the junction of County A. The natural area lies south of Highway 35.


Rush River Delta is owned by:

  • WDNR


The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.

The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.


Site objectives

Manage the site as a floodplain forest reserve, an aquatic reserve, as an ecological reference area, and as a significant archaeological site. Natural processes will determine the structure of the forest and aquatic communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native floodplain forests.

Management approach

The native species are managed passively, which allows nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the site. Exceptions include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress fires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event is not considered compatible with management objectives. Archaeological sites and historic structures are managed according to Department policy and existing state and federal legislation. This especially includes avoiding disturbance of the burial sites with the establishment of a "no disturbance" buffer zone within 15 feet of their perimeter or base. Vegetation on and around these features is generally managed in the same manner as the natural communities within which they occur. However, removal of trees and shrubs from burial areas (without any ground disturbance, e.g., stump pulling or vehicle use) and within the 15-foot buffer zone is generally desirable to protect them from windthrow, and to encourage growth of groundcover that helps prevent erosion. Selected trees may be retained for forestry purposes, or when unavoidable mound damage would occur during tree removal, or for other management purposes. Sites covered by grasses may be periodically mowed, burned and sprayed to maintain existing groundcover and to limit woody succession. The Departmental Archaeologist reviews all proposals for DNR-proposed activities within the buffered burial area.

Site-specific considerations

  • Removal of log jams and detritus blocking fish spawning areas can be done as necessary. There should be no alteration of inorganic deposits, such as sand and gravel.
  • During years of sandbar exposure, entry to these areas may be restricted to protect nesting habitat for Common and Forsterís Terns.
  • Railroad corridor and roadside management occurs sporadically within the railroad and highway easement areas.
  • Proposals to rip-rap areas to prevent loss of archaeological artifacts are virtually impossible in deltaic systems, and any proposals for such management would need to have a well-justified environmental risk assessment.


Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

Allowable activities

In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities

  • Camping and campfires
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

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Last revised: Thursday, October 11, 2018