Monday, January 18, 2016

Extensive forested area sits in metro area

Trail through Putnam Park State Natural Area, courtesy WI DNR. 
Topo map for trail.
Day hikers can enjoy a walk along two waterways through a wildlife-laden forest in the heart of western Wisconsin’s largest metro area.

Several undesignated trails runs through the Putnam Park State Natural Area in Eau Claire, which boasts more than 70,000 residents. The University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire owns and maintains the 230-acre natural area.

Big trees
Putnam Park actually consists of two sections, which the university campus splits. Both sections are narrow, curving strips along waterways.

The western section sits on the Chippewa River. To access it, from campus parking lot #4, follow the interpretive trail into the state natural area.

The much larger eastern section is largely centered on Little Niagara Creek. It can be reached by walking alongside Putnam Drive, which starts across from campus parking lot #14.

Both areas are heavily forested, with red and white pines dominating the higher ground while hackberry, paper and river birch, and red maple and silver maple thrive in the lower, wetter areas. Tamarack and white cedar also can be found in the eastern portion’s wettest sections.

Day hikers will be impressed by the size of the trees, especially the red and white pine, which have largely been undisturbed for more than a century. Henry Cleveland Putnam donated the areas for the park to the city in 1909, wanting it set aside as a botanical laboratory because of the great variety of plants found there. Indeed, more than 400 species of plants have been documented.

With the diversity of plants and its size, the state natural area is a haven for an incredible range number of animals for an urban area. At last count, 23 kinds of mammals – including beaver, white-tailed deer, and woodchucks – called the woods home. Six reptiles, including the prairie skink, also can be found there.

The state natural area also is a great place for birdwatchers. About 100 bird species – such as eagles, hawks, wild turkeys, and woodpeckers – live there during summer.

One other species you’re certain to find are college researchers documenting plants and animals. In 1957, the city transferred the acreage to the Wisconsin State College, which later became the university.

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