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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Otter Creek Oak Barrens (No. 240)

Oak Barrens

Photo by E. Epstein



Dunn County. T30N-R12W, Section 16. 404 acres.



Situated on rolling topography, Otter Creek Oak Barrens contains an undisturbed oak barrens dominated by scattered large black and Hill's oaks with groves of smaller bur, black, and white oak. Jack pine and trembling aspen are also present. The large black oaks are at least 140 years old, and may be over 200 years old. The smaller oaks, 8 to 20 inches in diameter, are 70 to 110 years old. The moderate shrub layer contains American hazelnut and dogwood brush. The groundlayer is quite diverse with a rich assemblage of prairie grasses and forbs including prairie larkspur. Other species are June grass, little blue-stem, leadplant, puccoon, field wormwood, flowering spurge, bastard-toadflax, false Solomon's seal, bird's-foot violet, prairie coreopsis, and New Jersey tea. Pocket gophers are abundant. The surrounding southern dry forest has a high density of oaks with canopy trees mostly single stemmed on the slopes and multiple stemmed on the upper slopes and ridges. The forest has an excellent uneven canopy replacement structure and a groundlayer dominated by twisted stalk. On a few north facing slopes the dominant tree is red maple with an open understory and a groundlayer dominated by interrupted fern. The soils are sandy and sandy loams. Otter Creek Oak Barrens is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1990.


Driving directions

From the junction of Highways 25 and 170 in Wheeler, go east on 170 1.8 miles, then north on County S 4.5 miles, then east on Forest Lane (1150th Avenue) 1.2 miles and park at the corner. Walk south 0.5 miles on a gated sand lane to the northern boundary of the natural area.


Otter Creek Oak Barrens 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 barrens, sand prairie, and southern dry-mesic forest reserve and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed vegetation manipulation (see below) will determine the structure of the savanna and forest. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native oak barrens and southern dry-mesic forest.

Management approach

Maintenance of the native dominant savanna tree species (primarily oaks) is the primary management objective. Some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire is needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Augmentation of the ground layer will only add species that historically would have been found on the site, using seeds or plugs from local genetic material species; this usually occurs in the early stages of restoration. The 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

  • Oak barrens and sand prairie species will be allowed to invade the old field on the south end of the property, which may be augmented with planting of locally-collected ground layer species.


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, July 06, 2018