Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the most highly visited and cherished public properties in Wisconsin, with more than 2.5 million annual visitors who come from across the country to experience beautiful landscapes, unique geologic features, and outstanding recreation opportunities, including 15 hiking trails, segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, rock climbing opportunities on exposed quartzite, and paddling on Devil’s Lake.

In addition to its stunning views and outdoor recreation opportunities, Devil’s Lake protects some of Wisconsin’s best remaining examples of unique natural communities, provides habitat for rare wildlife and plant species, and features unique geological formations – its natural features are of local, regional, and even national conservation significance. The Natural Resources Foundation received a grant from REI Madison in 2018 to conduct restoration activities including prescribed burning and invasive species eradication to ensure that the East Bluff State Natural Area – found on the southeastern side of Devil’s Lake State Park – is healthy and protected, ensuring that current and future park visitors have the opportunity to explore and experience Wisconsin’s natural communities and native wildlife and plant species.

Devil’s Lake State Park, with nearly 3 million annual visitors, is one of Wisconsin’s most popular state parks, and has ecologically and culturally significant features. Photo by Cait Williamson

Funding from REI was used in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, which completed critical restoration activities throughout 2018, with the goal of eradicating harmful invasive species, and promoting the growth of native plants, thus improving native southern Wisconsin natural communities like talus slopes, dry prairie, bedrock glade, open oak woodland, and closed canopy southern hardwood forest, and providing the necessary habitat for the many wildlife species that call Devil’s Lake home. This work included invasive garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, and buckthorn removal, improvement of oak woodlands by thinning out non-desirable species, and prescribed burning throughout East Bluff State Natural Area, the segment of the park which encompasses the most highly visited hiking trails and rock climbing areas within the park. We also partnered with REI and DNR on a volunteer workday, recruiting nearly 50 volunteers who spent a chilly fall morning with us removing invasive buckthorn, while volunteers from the Wisconsin Climber’s Association pitched in during a visit to the park.

“This funding from REI has fostered a renewed vigor to restore and protect one of the true treasures of southern Wisconsin,” said Bridget Rathman, State Natural Areas crew leader with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “This collaboration has allowed us to expand our efforts and protect more of Devil’s Lake’s rare habitat than ever before. It is highly encouraging to have such a large group of volunteers show up to learn about and help save the places that so many millions of people have enjoyed.”

Volunteers work together to remove buckthorn from the trails. Photo by Bridget Rathman

Volunteers from the Wisconsin Climbers Association admire the spring flowers after vanquishing garlic mustard. Photo by Bridget Rathman.

Volunteers pose for a group photo. Photo by Nora Simmons.

IMPACT. This project directly enhanced and restored nearly 100 acres of native Wisconsin landscapes, improving the health and quality of natural communities ranging from dry prairie to southern forest, and increasing the habitat available for multiple state, regional, and globally threatened animal and plant species ranging from peregrine falcons to the federally endangered rusty-patched bumble bee (Wisconsin’s newest endangered species). A key outcome of this work is the restoration of healthy native habitat alongside highly used trails, by removing destructive invasive species and encouraging the growth of native plants.

These land management activities are key to preserving the natural environments found at Devil’s Lake State Park and in turn conserving the species found here, ensuring that park visitors can continue to experience these beautiful natural wonders found just a short drive from Madison. By helping to preserve the health and integrity of the beautiful natural features found here, we can ensure that future generations have the opportunity to learn and explore in Devil’s Lake State Park.

The restoration work completed at Devil’s Lake improved critical habitat for dozens of rare and threatened wildlife species, including the timber rattlesnake, which overwinters on the rocky bluffs of the park. Photo by DZ Johnson.

We are deeply appreciative of REI’s support for this project and look forward to partnering with them in the future!

REI Logo Small

Blog Contributor: Cait Williamson

CD Besadny Conservation Fund Awardees 2019

Every year the CD Besadny Conservation Fund awards grants to new and original projects that involve and affect underserved communities, take advantage of local resources and partnerships, and demonstrate real outcomes.

Piping plovers return to Green Bay

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of the projects we support through our Bird Protection Fund: the banding of federally endangered piping plover chicks near Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Wild Alaska

Discover Alaska, a rugged, mysterious, and breathtaking experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. From glaciers that seem to reach the clouds to the big game wildlife that makes Alaska the epic wilderness it is, you will be mesmerized by its untouched landscape.

Bats & Owls & Snakes, Oh My!

In honor of the spookiest season—October—we’re busting some myths surrounding traditionally “scary” creatures that deserve a snuggle just as much as any other cute creature.

The Wonders of Africa

In October 2020, we will be traveling from Zimbabwe to Zambia to Botswana, experiencing their movie-like landscapes and what makes them unique to Africa.

2020 Bird Protection Fund Projects

The Bird Protection Fund has decided upon its 2020 Priority Projects, with more than $60,000 going towards priority bird conservation projects that range from research to reintroduction efforts.

2018 Photo Contest Winners

Every year you send us your best photos that capture incredible moments from our Field Trips. Our 2018 Photo Contest winners give us an inside look into the unique experiences and critical conservation being done throughout the year – take a look!

Exploring the Canyonlands of the Southwest

The southwest is home to some of America’s most iconic landscapes, as well as several stunning national parks. In March 2020, we will be travelling to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley Navajo Park with professional naturalist Paul Regnier and professional geologist Dr. Roger Kuhns.

NRF board member Bill Smith named to Natural Resources Board

NRF board member Bill Smith has recently been appointed to the Natural Resources Board (NRB), the governing body of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Hundreds of ‘Birdathonners’ Raise Funds for Bird Conservation Efforts in Wisconsin

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is one of the most popular “bird-a-thon” style fundraisers in the nation, bringing in over $400,000 since it was created in 2012 to raise funds for bird protection efforts for Wisconsin birds.