Sunday, September 29, 2013

Man’s effect on ecosystem visible on trail

A beautiful blue lake in front of a massive sedge meadow await day hikers on the brief Reed Lake Trail in Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.

The trail sits in Crex Meadow’s remote northeast corner. To reach it, from the visitor center take County Road F north. After passing Currey Pond, turn right/east onto Reed Lake Road. Past North Refuge Road, a jeep trail heads right/south to Reed Lake. Drive the trail to the lake’s northshore, where there’s a parking lot.

Hike the jeep trail back to Reed Lake Road then to the parking lot for an easy 0.45-mile round trip.

Pine-oak forest
On the trail’s west side is a pine-oak forest. That’s a much different habitat than existed here before pioneers arrived during the late 1800s.

At that time, the forest was a brush-prairie consisting mainly of brush grasses and forbs with a few scattered red and jack pines. Because settlers did not allow wildfires, the brush-prairie community that depended upon such blazes to maintain itself gave way to woodlands.

The sedge meadow south of the trail and Reed Lake stretches for more than three miles. In such wetlands, the soil is saturated with moisture with the water table very close to the surface.

While a variety of plants grow in these meadows, sedge often dominates. Though similar in appearance from a distance, sedge tends to be triangular and solid while grasses generally are hollow cylinders.

Sand blow
Following the hike, drive to the observation platform on the side of the sedge meadow east of the lake (Take Reed Lake Road east and turn south on James Road; the platform is less than a quarter mile on the right/west side.). The platform overlooks a sand blow.

The site sits atop about 80 feet of sand left by a glacial lake that covered Crex Meadows at the end of the last ice age. Pioneers tried to farm this area shortly after 1850, leaving behind asparagus, box elder trees, and the sand dune. Since pioneers disturbed the soil, wind whips up the sand granules, preventing mosses and grasses from taking root. A house once stood on the sand dune.

Read more about day hiking Crex Meadows in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking Crex Meadows Wildlife Area guidebook.