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Walking in Muir's Footsteps
Midwest Region, December 13, 2018
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High Marq Environmental Charter School finished planting prairie - group photo
High Marq Environmental Charter School finished planting prairie - group photo - Photo Credit: kurt waterstradt
PFW biologist Brendan Woodall and Kevin Thusius, Ice Age Trail Alliance Conservation Director ask students what they learned.
PFW biologist Brendan Woodall and Kevin Thusius, Ice Age Trail Alliance Conservation Director ask students what they learned. - Photo Credit: kurt waterstradt
Leopold Wetland Management District Staff assisting with the 2016 portion of the planting.
Leopold Wetland Management District Staff assisting with the 2016 portion of the planting. - Photo Credit: Allison Manwaring

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”, John Muir.


December in Wisconsin means temperatures are beginning to drop below freezing, snow begins to accumulate and, well, conditions become perfect for planting native prairie! Wrapping up the 2018 field season was extra special for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Wisconsin this year. This story begins nearly 170 years ago, when John Muir emigrated as a young boy with his family from Scotland to central Wisconsin in 1849. The Muir’s settled 320 acres for farming near Montello, Wisconsin, east of the Fox River. Although John is known for his work in California, perhaps it was here, growing up on a farm in Marquette County, that he developed his love of nature. In 1957, 60 acres of John Muir’s childhood homestead became a county park and recognized a few years later as a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources State Natural Area for its diverse plant community. One only has to look at what John wrote about this area to appreciate its uniqueness:

“Oh that glorious Wisconsin wildnerness! Everything new and pure in the very prime of spring when Nature’s pulses were beating highest and mysteriously keeping time with our own! Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!” John Muir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, (Boston and New York; Houghtom Mifflin Company, March, 1913)


The Service recognized the uniqueness of this area in 1979, when the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge was established across from the park, protecting 1,054 acres of wetlands and associated uplands for sandhill cranes, waterfowl and other unique species. In 2014, the park received a big boost when the Natural Heritage Land Trust (now Groundswell Conservancy) purchased a 198-acre farm on its northern edge. That farm included 38 acres of the original Muir homestead, which was donated to the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Groundswell donated the remaining land to the Service as part of the refuge system, Muir Waterfowl Production Area. All of the land is open for hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, hunting, fishing and trapping.


Recognizing the opportunity to return the 38 acres of cropland to prairie (ironically, the same land that John assisted his farther in turning under the prairie to cropland 170 years prior), the Ice Age Trail Alliance reached out to the Partners Program to assist with the restoration. The first 16 acres were planted in December 2016 with over 75 species of hand collected local native seed. This December, the remaining 22 acres were planted along with 36 acres at the Muir Waterfowl Production Area. As a learning opportunity, students from High Marq Environmental Charter School assisted with broadcast seeding prairie species. Students divided into teams, spreading grass and forb seed that will germinate next spring into lupine, blazingstars and little bluestem plants.


This unique landscape and partnership is just one of many on-going efforts across Wisconsin and the Nation that the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program continues to provide the synergy and leadership to move conservation forward. Kevin Thusius, Conservation Program Directory for the Ice Age Trail Alliance said it best, “What I like about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is that they are out there, on the ground, in the face of the public, making things happen to improve wildlife habitat.” Partners for Fish and Wildlife program staff truly are “walking in Muir’s Footsteps.”

 

Special Thanks to Allison Manwaring who finished the 2016 portion of this project and then moved out to Oregon with a position at the Roseberg Field Office.


Contact Info: Kurt Waterstradt, 608-221-1206, ext. 14, kurt_waterstradt@fws.gov
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