Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trail heads through meadow to quiet stream

Footbridge over Kelly Creek
Kelly Creek Preserve Trail topo map
Day hikers can enjoy a walk through a meadow to a picturesque spring-fed creek in western Wisconsin.

The 0.3-miles round trip Kelly Creek Preserve Trail runs through property owned by the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust. Located northeast of River Falls, the 70-acre preserve is open to the public.

To reach the preserve, from River Falls, take Wis. Hwy. 65 north (alternately, from Interstate 94 east of Hudson, at Exit 10 take Hwy. 65 south). Turn east onto County Road J. Drive about 1.5 miles and turn right/south onto a gravel road. In a little less than a third of a mile, a parking lot is on the road's tight/west side.

The trail leaves from the lot's west side and heads north through a meadow. Thanks to the prairie flowers and preserved creek, a number of interesting butterflies and water striders call the preserve home. Among the former are the Eastern Giant Swallowtail, the Eastern Tailed-Blue, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the Peck's Skipper, and the Silver-spotted Skipper; among the former are the Twelve-spotted Skimmer and the Widow Skimmer.

Next the trail curves west and finally turns south as entering a small wooded area that surrounds Kelly Creek. Here the small creek rises from springs under a limestone outcropping and flows northwest to the nearby Kinnickinnic River, a major tributary of the St. Croix River.

Though short in distance, Kelly Creek pours thousands of gallons of cold water into the Kinnickinnic, helping ensure the river remains a top-notch trout stream. Indeed, the Kinnickinnic averages 8000 brown and brook trout per mile.

The land trust purchased the area in 1998, restoring the surrounding fields to a native prairie and oak savanna. Besides offering recreational opportunities, the preserve is a mini-laboratory. The nearby University of Wisconsin-River Falls monitors the creek and prairie habitat to help determine the best land management practices for the Kinnickinnic Watershed, which faces pressures from creeping suburban sprawl, population growth, and climate change.

If you have some extra energy upon reaching the creek, it can be crossed. A trail runs along the stream's south side as well as to the far woodline.

Learn more about nearby day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of St. Croix County guidebook.