The Upper Kickapoo River Watershed (LW06) is located in south central Monroe County. A total of 22 miles from the headwaters down to Ontario flow through the Upper Kickapoo Watershed. This watershed includes all streams that flow to the Kickapoo River upstream of Ontario. The topography of the Upper Kickapoo River Watershed differs from other Kickapoo River watersheds in that the valleys are much wider and the slopes not quite as steep. Consequently, this watershed ranks second behind the West Fork of the Kickapoo River Watershed in percent of land in agriculture. Fish surveys dating back to the 1950s document an abundance of forage fish in Upper Kickapoo River Watershed streams.
Domestic trout stocked in these streams over the years have not resulted in self-sustaining populations. At this time we believe the streams in this watershed are not capable of sustaining trout due to higher than desirable water temperatures. It is interesting to note that the Upper Kickapoo River Watershed is surrounded by watersheds with similar land use patterns, but by contrast contain abundant trout streams. We believe this watershed has less cold water influence to streams due to a unique confining rock layer. This rock layer impedes deep infiltration of rainwater and snowmelt, preventing it from cooling adequately before returning to a stream as groundwater or springs.
From: Ripp, Coreen, Koperski, Cindy and Folstad, Jason. 2002. The State of the Lower Wisconsin River Basin. PUBL WT-559-2002. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.
Nonpoint and Point Sources
The Upper Kickapoo River watershed is located in south central Monroe County. It falls within the unglaciated, or driftless, region of the state. Agriculture, particularly dairying, is the dominant land use. There are nonpoint source problems in the watershed, but the sources and extent have not been fully identified.
The Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscape in southwestern and west central Wisconsin is characterized by its highly eroded, driftless topography and relatively extensive forested landscape. Soils are silt loams (loess) and sandy loams over sandstone residuum over dolomite. Several large rivers including the Wisconsin, Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black flow through or border the Ecological Landscape.
Historical vegetation consisted of southern hardwood forests, oak savanna, scattered prairies, and floodplain forests and marshes along the major rivers. With Euro-American settlement, most of the land on ridgetops and valley bottoms was cleared of oak savanna, prairie, and level forest for agriculture. The steep slopes between valley bottom and ridgetop, unsuitable for raising crops, grew into oak-dominated forests after the ubiquitous presettlement wildfires were suppressed. Current vegetation is a mix of forest (40%), agriculture, and grassland with some wetlands in the river valleys. The primary forest cover is oak-hickory (51%) dominated by oak species and shagbark hickory. Maple-basswood forests (28%), dominated by sugar maple, basswood and red maple, are common in areas that were not subjected to repeated presettlement wildfires. Bottomland hardwoods (10%) are common in the valley bottoms of major rivers and are dominated by silver maple, ashes, elms, cottonwood, and red maple. Relict conifer forests including white pine, hemlock and yellow birch are a rarer natural community in the cooler, steep, north slope microclimates.
There are few wetland complexes in the watershed. Remaining wetlands are generally small wet meadows, adjacent to streams, which are usually grazed. The Sparta-Elroy bike trail runs through the watershed. There are two WPDES-permitted municipal wastewater dischargers in the watershed at Norwalk and Wilton. Very little information exists for evaluating water quality and habitat conditions for the streams in this watershed.
Rivers and StreamsAll Waters in WatershedWatershed Trout StreamsWatershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources
Lakes and Impoundments
Impaired WatersList of Impaired Waters
Monitoring & Projects
Projects including grants, restoration work and studies shown below have occurred in this watershed. Click the links below to read through the text. While these are not an exhaustive list of activities, they provide insight into the management activities happening in this watershed.
Moore Creek TWA Project
Water chemistry, fish, habitat, and macroinvertebrate data collections to assess resources in the Moore Creek Watershed.
Watershed History Note
The Villages of Norwalk and Wilton are located in the center of the Upper Kickapoo River Watershed. However, they are better known as communities along the Elroy-Sparta Trail. This trail was once part of the route for the Chicago-North Western Railroad which, by the early 1880s, ran from Chicago to St. Paul, via Elroy and Sparta.
The portion of the trail between the two villages is 6 miles long and includes a tunnel. The tunnel is 1,694 feet long and was completed in 1873 after one and a half years of manual digging. It cost $75,557 or $44/per foot.
Through the years rail traffic tapered off and the last trains ran on the line in 1964. In 1965 the Chicago-North Western Railroad removed the tracks and sold the right of way to the Wisconsin Conservation Department (now known as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). Improvements were made on the roadbed, including resurfacing with limestone screenings, and the 34 bridges have been planked and protected by railings. The 32-mile Elroy-Sparta Trail is considered to be the first rails to trails hiking and biking trail in the nation.