Monday, October 26, 2015

Wetlands deliver primitive hiking experience

Muddy Creek Wildlife Area
Topo map, Elm Mound Swamp trails.
A couple of wetlands offer great bushwhacking country for hikers in west-central Wisconsin.

The Red Cedar Waterfowl Production Area and the Muddy Creek Wildlife Area are both conveniently located near the freeway in western Dunn County. Though there are no marked path, some deer and jeep trails do cut across both areas.

Red Cedar Waterfowl Production Area
From Menomonie, take Interstate 94 east then turn onto County Road B south. Go left/east onto 610th Avenue; turn right/south onto 730th Avenue. A parking lot is on the road’s left/east side. Cross the road and head west into the production area.

A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property, the area provides nesting and feeding grounds for waterfowl. Migratory birds – including songbirds – often can be spotted here in spring and fall.

Though only 336.1 acres in size, the production area is a vital zone for waterfowl, as Wisconsin has lost about 2 million hectares of wetland since gaining statehood in 1848. The Red Cedar WPA adjoins the Strehlau Waterfowl Production Area to its north.

Muddy Creek Wildlife Area
From Interstate 94, at Exit 52 take U.S. Hwy 12/Wis. Hwy. 29 west. Watch for the parking area on the highway’s right/north side. A gated jeep trail leads from the parking loop’s northwest corner into a woods that hugs Muddy Creek’s banks.

Most of the state wildlife area’s 4100 acres consists of marshy lowlands, known locally as the Elk Mound Swamp. But amid the wetlands are islands of prairie and woodlands, the latter mainly consisting of aspen, oaks and white pine. Farm fields along the wildlife area’s edges have been converted to tallgrass prairie.

For ecologists, though, the wetlands are what prove most interesting. As a transition zone, the area is one of the few spots in Wisconsin where plant species from both northern and southern sedge meadows can be found.

Bushwhacking tips
While you’ll want to stick to deer trails or vehicle tracks as much as possible when visiting these two areas, that won’t always be possible. Don’t cut grass, however, and tread lightly no matter where you walk.

Be aware that whether you stay on a trail or bushwhack, the ground can be soft and muddy. Because of this, hiking boots definitely are needed during any visit.

You’ll also want to wear pants as the grass often will be high and wet. Avoid denim pants and cotton shirts, which when wet are difficult to dry out, though a cotton/poly combo usually is okay.

Tall grasses are ideal spots for ticks, but they can be kept off you by wearing long-sleeved shirts and tying each pants leg bottom tight over your boots. Always check your body afterward for any hitchhiking critters.

Learn more about Chippewa Valley day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley guidebook.