Location: LaCrosse, Wisconsin
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: The Refuge is within the Mississipi Flyway for migratory birds which encompasses the main purpose of the refuge. It is located in four states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois and covers just over 240,000 acres along 261 river miles of the Mississippi River. Thereby, it is the largest block of floodplain habitat in the lower 48 states. Bordered by steep wooded hillsides from 100 to 600 feet above the river, this narrow corridor offers scenic beauty and productive fish and wildlife habitat unmatched anywhere in the US. The Refuge is broken up into four districts. The Savanna District from Cordove, Illinois to Dubuque, Iowa, the McGregor District to Reno, Minnesota, the LaCrosse District to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and the Winona District to Wabasha, Minnesota. While the primary recreational opportunities are boating on the Mississippi River, there are a limited number of hiking trails and overlooks provided in each district.
1) Our initial visit to the refuge was in the LaCrosse district. We camped at the Blackhawk Park COE campground which is within the refuge and drove north to the Visitor Center just north of LaCrosse. The Visitor Center is a very nice, new facility with some excellent exhibits on the wildife and ongoing efforts to recover river habitats lost due to the damming of the Mississippi River. While this has created some very large “pools” on the river that are beneficial for some migratory birds, the loss of the islands in the river has led to the decline of other species. They are in the process of attempting to rebuild the islands with modest success.
2) While at the Visitor Center we explored their restored long-grass prairie around the center. They have a very nice 2 mile loop trial through the prairie, part of it paved and the rest a gravel road. Except for the industrial buildings and residential area along the Mississippi River, it was a nice walk through the goldenrod and black eye Susan’s in bloom.