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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Big Swamp (No. 512)

Big Swamp

Photo by Josh Mayer



Within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, Oneida County. T38N-R8E, Sections 1-4, 10, 11, 12. T38N-R9E, Section 7. T39N-R8E, Sections 34, 35, 36. 2,914 acres.



Big Swamp is a vast peatland that harbors extensive stands of muskeg, open bog, poor fen, sedge meadow, and an undeveloped seepage lake. In the southern and central portion of the site is a muskeg community with scattered, stunted black spruce and tamarack with ericaceous shrubs, sedges, and sphagnum. Jack pine is occasionally present. Characteristic species are bog rosemary, bog laurel, leather-leaf, small cranberry, black chokeberry, bog birch, bog willow, few-seeded sedge, and creeping sedge. Areas with a more dense cover of spruce support species such as Labrador tea, three-seeded sedge, tussock cotton-grass, and three-leaved Solomon's-seal. The 62-acre Clear Lake is a seepage lake containing very soft-water. Adjacent to the lake is a boggy, sphagnum lawn that features pitcher plant, arrow-grass, round-leaved sundew, and a rare orchid. Near the southern upland border, tamarack is much more dominant than spruce and is associated with alder, northern blue-flag iris, and mountain holly. The western-most section contains a gently sloping sandy peninsula that supports a dry-mesic forest dominated by red pine, red oak, and white pine. The moderately dense shrub layer is comprised primarily of beaked hazelnut. The low shrub and herbaceous layer includes early low blueberry, pipsissewa, bracken fern, Canada mayflower, American starflower, and running club-moss. Uncommon plants are early coralroot and false beech-drops. Of note are two undeveloped waterbodies that support numerous rare plants. A 22-acre seepage lake (Swanson Lake) contains extremely soft-water that supports a unique plant assemblage that is specially adapted to the infertile water. Plants include water lobelia, resupinate bladderwort, and lake quill-wort. The smaller 10-acre bog pond and wetlands supports rare plants such as hidden-fruited bladderwort and Farwell's milfoil. Avifauna includes palm warbler, black-throated green warbler, pine warbler, hermit thrush, ovenbird, winter wren, sedge wren, Lincoln's sparrow, and northern harrier. Big Swamp is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2007.


Driving directions

From McNaughton, go east on Bridge Road 0.8 miles, then north and east on Black Lake Road 2.9 miles, then continue east on Ranch Road 0.7 miles, then north on Muskellunge Lake Road 2.3 miles. Park and walk northeast into the site.


Big Swamp 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 reserve for open bog, poor fen, sedge meadow and muskeg, as an actively managed northern dry-mesic forest reserve, as an aquatic reserve and wetland protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes, in addition to a timber harvest, brushing and prescribed burn program, will determine the structure of the pine tracts. Natural processes alone will determine the structure of the remainder of the forest and associated wetlands. Note: It is understood that over the course of time, the red pine tract under a fire management regime will differ dramatically from other areas that are managed passively. Other State Natural Areas, however, are managed to succeed from an old-growth oak/red pine cover type to more mesic forest. Both management scenarios are needed as ecological reference areas. Natural processes will determine the structure of the wetland communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native northern dry-mesic forests, aquatic communities and wetlands.

Management approach

The management in areas away from the wetlands is accomplished with occasional timber harvest to reduce the hardwoods and controlled low-intensity ground fires (will not reach the canopy) to top kill shrubs once every 15-25 years. Limited brush and slash reduction may need to precede these burns. The native wetland species are managed passively, which allows nature to determine their ecological characteristics. Other allowable activities across the entire site 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.

Site-specific considerations

  • Roadside easement area may be managed sporadically by township.


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