Location: Necedah, Wisconsin
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is situated on the bed of the former Glacial Lake Wisconsin and the Great Wisconsin Swamp. Thus it is a vast peat land with dry sandy ridges left by the melting glaciers. When Europeans first settled the area in the late 1800s, they were primarily interested in logging the vast forests of the state. This was followed by land clearing and draining for farming, however, the short growing season and droughty sandy soils made this very difficult. After a series of intense fires in the 1930s, the land was mostly abandoned and it became a Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in 1939. This 44,000 acre refuge is a complex of wetlands, forest, and open water. The refuge has been instrumental in the recovery of the whooping crane population which was down to 15 birds in 1941 due to loss of habitat. Today the refuge seeks to restore a self-staining population of whooping cranes that use the refuge for the summer. The refuge is also the home of the Karner blue butterfly, which is a small bright blue butterfly that is dependent on wild lupine which only grows in the Necedah’s barren landscape. There are multiple hiking trails available on the refuge ranging in size from 0.25 miles to 3.5 miles.
1) The Visitor Center on the refuge is an excellent place to begin and is a sight to behold. It is very new and large with a nice set of exhibits and meeting rooms. Be sure to catch the interpretive sign outside in front of the building which describes all the innovations they have included in the construction of the building. For example, all the toilets use rainwater collected in a cistern and a lot of the construction used recycled materials.
2) Potentially the best trail on the refuge is located right at the Visitor Center. This 1 mile loop trail provides many good views of the wetlands and provides an extended boardwalk out from the shore of the lake.
3) The other popular trail is the Observation Tower trail which includes a 3 story observation tower from which you can see a large portion of the refuge. Continuing beyond the tower is a easy 0.8 mile walk through the forest with many views of the wetlands along the trail before it loops back to the parking lot.