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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Johnson Lake Barrens & Springs (No. 107)

Johnson Lake Barrens & Springs

Photo by E. Epstein



Within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, Vilas County. T42N-R8E, Sections 2, 3, 4, 8-11, 13-16. 1,130 acres.



Johnson Lake Barrens and Springs contains open communities of pine barrens and bracken grassland perched on the sandy glacial outwash plain that gently slopes toward the lake. Dominant trees are scattered, open grown jack pine, Hill's oak, red pine, and choke cherry. The groundlayer is dominated by sweet fern, blueberry, barrens strawberry, rice grass, poverty oat grass, hawkweed, and arrow leaved aster. The moister west and north slopes have a large number of aspen and openings nearly covered with bracken fern. Water resources include Johnson Lake, a soft-water spring complex, and three cold, hard water streams that meander through the site: Garland, Siphon, and Johnson Creeks. The 24-acre Johnson Lake is a soft-water drainage lake fed by Garland Creek. Abundant submerged aquatics are present including white water-lily, spatterdock, big-leaf pondweed, floating pondweed, flat-stem pondweed, and common water-weed. A northern sedge meadow dominated by wire leaved sedges surrounds the lake and seepage areas at the base of the terrace contain black spruce and tamarack. Formed in pitted outwash and moraine at the Manitowish River headwaters is the Siphon Springs complex, which includes Goodyear Springs, a 3-acre spring pond with a maximum depth of 8 feet. Water is neutral in pH, 52 ppm total alkalinity, and supports brook trout, white sucker, common minnow species, and a sparse growth of aquatic plants including watershield, chara, wild celery, and waterweed. The spring and outlet are filled partially with silt but retain deep pockets of exposed sand and gravel. The area has a wide range of animal life including hermit thrush, Connecticut warbler, common yellow-throat, swamp sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, spruce grouse, bobcat, and black bear. Restoration management activities have included prescribed burning and the cutting of aspen and small jack pine, which has opened up the area. Johnson Lake Barrens and Springs is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1973. The boundary was expanded in 2007 to include the spring pond complex.


Driving directions

From the intersection of County Highways B and M (Cut-off Road) north of Boulder Junction, go east on County B 4.5 miles, then south on Old B 1.9 miles, then west on Jute Lake Road 1.4 miles, then south on logging roads to the natural area.


Johnson Lake Barrens & Springs 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 preserve for northern sedge meadow, alder thicket, open bog, black spruce swamp, northern wet forest, bracken grassland and northern dry forest, as an aquatic preserve and wetland protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed vegetation manipulation (see below) will determine the structure of the forest and wetlands. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native bracken grassland.

Management approach

The native dominant bracken grassland tree species (primarily jack pine) are managed actively. However, some trees such as scattered northern pin oak and red pine are not harvested. After jack pine is established, thinning of the canopy and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. The native wetland species are managed passively, which allows nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the site. Other allowable activities across the entire site include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event in the barrens can occur if the volume of woody material inhibits fire prescriptions. Salvage of trees in the wetlands, however, is not considered compatible with management objectives.


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