Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

Karner blue butterfly home celebrates 80 years

March 14, 2019

Female Karner blue butterfly at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jill Utrup/USFWS.
Female Karner blue butterfly at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jill Utrup/USFWS.

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are celebrating Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 80 years ago today. Nestled in central Wisconsin is a landscape that was epitomized by early homesteaders as the Great Wisconsin Swamp, this refuge is both welcoming and offers visitors much-needed peace and quiet for Americans from all walks of life. Take a moment to learn more about this serendipitous place and plan a trip to experience it first-hand.

Necedah was named after the Native American Ho-Chunk word for “land of yellow waters,” because of the tawny, yellow water that is stained by mineral-rich soils of the area. This mosaic habitat of sedge meadow, savanna, prairie and pine-oak forest was established as a national wildlife refuge  in 1939 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration as a home to ringed boghaunter dragonflies, trumpeter swans, badgers and so much more.

The refuge is situated on the bed of Glacial Lake Wisconsin and the great Central Wisconsin Swamp, a vast peat land laced with dry ridges of sand that were deposited by waves of glacial melt-water. This glacial past is evident in the varied habitats that you can see along both foot and water trails today. The refuge is also home to a pre-glacial relic that dates back to a time when this part of the continent was located much further south. Tough enough to withstand our cold winters, the meadow-beauty is a relatively short plant, rarely taller than two feet, with beautiful pink flowers.

Visitors come to fish, hunt, sharpen their wildlife photography skills or hike year-round. With more than eight miles of trails in varying length and difficulty, Necedah has something for everyone. With five miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails open daily, it’s the perfect place to try out snowshoeing and you can even borrow gear for free! The refuge is also a great outdoor classroom. From guided hikes, to learning bird identification skills, to discovering tracks in the snow, the refuge has something for all ages - both for formal school group field trips and weekend family visitors.

Do you like to pick berries? Come visit with your pail July through mid-August and you just might find your favorite patch of wild berries. Blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, huckleberries and a variety of other wild edible berries decorate the refuge, so your chances are good. Please keep in mind that some berries are toxic and may make you sick. Always reference a trusted resource before eating any wild berry! Also note that gathering berries on the refuge is permitted for personal use only.

The refuge has a long history of biologists and land managers who do exceptional work restoring America’s native habitats and has one of the largest savanna restorations taking place in Wisconsin. These efforts have provided habitat for more than 110 species of migratory birds, three species of amphibians, 14 types of reptiles, and more than 44 species of butterflies in central Wisconsin. Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is home to the world’s largest population of Karner blue butterflies thanks in part to the abundance of wild lupine plants. The refuge also has a successful reintroduction record with the release of Canada geese in 1939, wild turkey in 1952, mallards in the 1960s, trumpeter swan in 1994 and is currently working to restore an experimental population of whooping cranes.

Of course, the refuge wouldn’t be what it is today without the dedication and support of all of the volunteers who give their time and energy to so many facets of refuge operation. With the tireless commitment of the Friends of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and more than 300 members, we look forward to the next 80 years of conservation, outdoor learning and outstanding recreation.

Learn more about Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and plan your trip today!

Historic photo by USFWS.

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff.

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