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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Chiwaukee Prairie (No. 54)

Chiwaukee Prairie

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer



Kenosha County. T1N-R23E, Sections 7, 8, 17-20, 29-32. 485 acres.

Note: Please see the "Maps" and "Access" tabs for specific information related to hunting at this property.



Chiwaukee Prairie is situated on gently undulating ridge and swale topography created when the level of glacial Lake Michigan was lowered in stages. It is one of the largest prairie complexes in the state and the most intact coastal wetland in southeastern Wisconsin. The prairie contains an exceptional diversity of plants and animals -- more than 400 species of vascular plants have been found here. The natural area features a mosaic of plant communities, ranging from southern sedge meadow, wet prairie, and wet-mesic prairie in the low areas, to dry-mesic prairie on the slightly elevated sandy ridges. Portions of the site are classified as calcareous fen, inhabited by calcium-loving plants. Oak opening dominated by bur and black oaks occupies higher, drier ground along the southern and western parts of the preserve. The northernmost portion, Kenosha Dunes, contains open and stabilized sand dunes. This variety of habitats, coupled with their location in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, allows several rare and geographically restricted plants, birds, invertebrates, and mammals to thrive here. Twenty-six rare plant species, 10 of which are listed as endangered or threatened grow in the prairie. More than 75 species of grassland and wetland birds have been observed during the breeding season. The Chiwaukee area was originally subdivided into hundreds of small residential lots many years ago, making land acquisition a challenge. It was a cooperative project of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), UW-Parkside, and the DNR for many years. In 2015, TNC donated its land holdings to the DNR and established an endowment for management purposes. Chiwaukee Prairie is recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service and was designated a State Natural Area in 1967.


Driving directions

The natural area consists of two parts, separated by 116th Street. The southern portion is a large, contiguous prairie area; the northern part consists of prairie fragmented by roads and scattered homes. Southern access: from the junction of State Highways 165 and 32 south of Kenosha, go south on 32 1 mile, then east on 116th Street 0.7 mile, then south on 1st Court 0.3 miles, then west on 121st Street 1 block, then north on 2nd Avenue to 119th Street and a parking lot. The northern portion is reached via the network of roads between 116th Street and 85th Street. The Kenosha Dunes unit is located north of 85th Street.

Please be aware Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area is made up of several scattered properties varying in size, habitat types and contains many residences and public roadways.

The map areas in green are larger parcels and offer the best hunting opportunities. The general public uses these areas and other nearby public lands for many recreational activities. Make sure you know where these other recreational opportunities are located for safety and to avoid user conflicts.

The map areas in black are small parcels (usually less than 2 acres) that have limited hunting opportunities based on parcel size and state laws restricting the discharge of firearms such as distance from road and residences.

Hunters should always follow the 4 Rules of Firearm Safety (TABK):

  1. Treat every firearm as if loaded.
  2. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
  3. Be certain of your target and what's beyond it.
  4. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until safe to shoot.


Chiwaukee Prairie 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 dry/dry-mesic/wet-mesic prairie, calcareous fen and oak opening, as a wetland protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed fire will determine the structure of the site's natural communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native prairies, fens and oak openings.

Management approach

The ecological characteristics of the site will be primarily shaped by an intensive fire management program. The native prairie and fen species are managed actively through tree/shrub control using tree harvest, brushing and especially fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Occasional fire-tolerant woody species may be retained at low densities (oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut in the prairie; native wetland conifers and black ash in the fen). 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, using 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 savanna. Other allowable activities throughout the site include control of invasive plants and animals, augmentation of native prairie species after careful review, 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

  • Roadside easement areas may be managed sporadically by the designated local, county or state managers.
  • Utility corridor management also may occur sporadically within the utility easement area.
  • Ditches may be filled to restore wetland hydrology.
  • If blocks within project area are acquired for public ownership, a process is in place to officially abandon roads within these blocks, providing opportunities for further restoration of the prairie community.
  • A Federally-listed species is regularly monitored, and its habitat is occasionally managed to maintain or increase its population.


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