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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Orion Mussel Bed (No. 298)

Higgins' eye

Photo by USFWS photo



Within the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Richland County. T8N-R1E, Sections 4, 5, 6. T9N-R1E, Sections 33, 34, 35. 170 acres.



Orion Mussel Beds features a narrow corridor of Wisconsin River bottom and adjacent shoreline that is critical habitat for numerous rare animals. Fifteen rare animals are known from this site including mussels, mayflies, dragonflies, beetles, and fish. The river bottom contains a rock and gravel substrate with underwater sandstone ledges, which contrasts with the shifting sands that are more typical of the Lower Wisconsin River bottom. The firm substrate that supports these species is restricted to a very narrow zone beginning at the shoreline extending south over the course of 4.2 miles. A diversity of rare mussels, invertebrates and fish are found here. In addition to the mussel beds, the natural area includes 1,500 feet of Wisconsin River frontage that supports one of the best preserved and least disturbed mound groups in Wisconsin. Built by the Effigy Mound Culture of the Late Woodland period between AD 750 and 1000, the site features the Twin Lizards and Catfish mound group, which consists of 15 mounds including 3 birds, 1 bear, 2 lizards, 1 conical, and 8 lineal mounds. The mounds were carefully sculpted and look much as they did when they were built. Orion Mussel Beds is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1996.


Driving directions

From the intersection of Highways 14, 60, and JJ in Gotham, go west on 60 2.4 miles, to the upper part of the beds. The natural area encompasses the northern part of the river for 3 miles downstream. From the intersection of Highways 14, 60, and JJ in Gotham, go west on 60 2.4 miles, to the upper part of the beds. The natural area encompasses the northern part of the river for 3 miles downstream. For the Effigy Mound Group, at the intersection of Highway 60 and County OO just east of Orion, go south on Gingerís Road 0.1 mile, then west on Aigner Lane to its end (0.25 miles) into the natural area.


Orion Mussel Bed 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 aquatic preserve, a rare animal preserve, a significant archaeological site, and an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the aquatic communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality aquatic communities.

Management approach

The native aquatic species are managed passively, which allows nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the lake. Exceptions include control of invasive plants and animals, and maintenance of existing facilities. The effigy mounds are managed according to Department policy and existing state and federal legislation. This especially includes avoiding disturbance of the effigy mounds 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 effigy mounds (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 effigy mound area.


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