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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Rocky Run Oak Savanna (No. 220)

Rocky Run Oak Savanna in spring

Photo by Darcy Kind



Within Rocky Run Fishery Area, Columbia County. T11N-R9E, Section 1. T11N-R10E, Sections 5, 6. T12N-R10E, Sections 31, 32. 455 acres.



Rocky Run Savanna occupies widely differing topography on a south-facing slope above Rocky Run Creek. The eastern portion is gently rolling, while the west is very steep and dissected containing two sheer-walled box canyons cut through the Cambrian sandstone. As the topography varies so does the bur, white, and black oak savanna canopy structure. The canopy is open on the upper slopes and nearly closed on the relatively flat lower slope with open grown oaks and scattered groves of oak, hickory, black cherry, and red cedar interspersed with prairie. Dominant grasses are little blue-stem, Indian grass, and side-oats grama. The variation in topography, shading, and soils provides for a mosaic of groundlayer species. More than 100 species with prairie affinities have been recorded including many rare plants. The dry, sandy conditions also support a notable concentration of butterflies. Management activities of brushing and prescribed burns are needed to help maintain and restore the oak opening. Rocky Run Savanna is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1988.


Driving directions

From the intersection of State Highways 16 and 22 south of Wyocena, go south on 22 1.9 miles to the Rocky Run Fishery Area parking area west of the road. Walk west and south on an access lane 0.7-mile into the area. Or continue south on 22 another 1.3 miles, then west on County B 1.5 mile, then north on Dunning Road 0.5 mile to a Rocky Run Fishery Area parking area east of the road. Walk east along the access lane, then north across Rocky Run Creek into the natural area. Or continue north on Dunning Road 0.7 miles to DNR parking area. Walk east across Fishery lands 0.5 miles to the natural area.


Rocky Run Oak Savanna 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 an oak opening reserve and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed understory manipulation (see below) will determine the structure of the savanna. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native oak openings.

Management approach

The native dominant savanna tree species (primarily oaks) are managed passively. However, some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Augmentation of the ground layer will only add species that historically would have been found on the site, utilizing seeds or plugs from local genetic material; this usually occurs in the early stages of restoration. The mostly passive canopy management and understory manipulation will determine the ecological characteristics of the site. Other allowable activities include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event can occur if the volume of woody material inhibits fire prescriptions.

Site-specific considerations

  • Although maintenance of the existing service roads is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible. Mowing should be timed to avoid dispersal of invasive plant seeds, and mowing equipment should be cleaned if invasive plant seeds are present.
  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near state-approved snowmobile trails is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance must be minimized, and must have no impact on the rare species found at the site.
  • The old field will be regularly burned to limit brush invasion, and will be eventually converted to native prairie with locally-collected seed.


Management objectives and prescriptions


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: Friday, October 26, 2018