Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Loop includes oak savanna, turtle pond

Saw-whet owls are studied at Beaver Creek Reserve in
west-central Wisconsin. Photo courtesy WI DNR.
Map of Interior Loop, courtesy of Beaver Creek Reserve.
Day hikers can walk along a creek, through an oak savanna, and past a turtle pond on the Interior Loop at the Beaver Creek Reserve in west-central Wisconsin.

The 1.3-mile round trip loops runs through a small section of the 400 acres overseen by the Friends of Beaver Creek Reserve. A number of nature and conservation programs occur year-round at the reserve. It’s also a research site, with recent programs focusing on American kestrels, saw-whet owls, bat calls, and stream monitoring.

Beaver Creek
To reach the reserve, from U.S. Hwy. 12 in Fall Creek, go north on County Road K north. The reserve is on the north side of the Eau Claire River. At the parking lots, take a connector trail east to the trailhead.

The Interior Trail heads southeast to an observation deck overlooking Beaver Creek, a meandering trout stream that flows for eight miles into the Eau Claire River. The creek supports a self-sustaining trout population; about 60 percent of Wisconsin’s streams require the addition of trout grown in hatcheries.

Staying on Beaver Creek’s west side, the trail gradually veers west, heading through an oak savanna along the way. In Wisconsin, savannas are meeting ground between the flat, drier prairies of the West and the hillier, wetter deciduous forests of the East. On the reserve’s savanna, oak is the dominant tree.

Upon leaving the savanna, the trail and the Boundary Loop merge. Go left/east on to the Boundary Loop to enjoy the swinging bridge and its views over the Eau Claire River, then head back onto the Interior Loop.

Turtle pond
The south side of the Interior Loop parallels the river. A major tributary of the Chippewa River, the Eau Claire flows west into the city that bears its name.

Next, the trail curves north past a marsh. Grasses rather than trees dominate these wetlands, which serves as a home for a variety of aquatic birds. An observation deck allows hikers to pause and enjoy the scenery.

On the trail’s north side, it passes a turtle pond. Turtles spend most of their lives in the water, and should you get close enough to see one, you’ll notice they have webbed feet and long claws.

The trail then turns north and heads to the nature center. The center contains a number of exhibits about the reserve’s many ecosystems. The parking lots are just north of the center.

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