Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

Founded in 1941, the Upham Woods Learning Center is an unique “river classroom” located on the Wisconsin River. 

Upham Woods consists of 318 acres of land, including Blackhawk Island. It has 14 buildings with a nature center and a raptor enclosure, all of which support its mission to provide amazing learning opportunities for kids and adults.

From summer camps to leadership workshops, it’s a great place to learn and while exploring nature.



Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

The Wisconsin River and the Devil’s Elbow

In September 2019, NRF hosted a Field Trip to Upham Woods to paddle down the Wisconsin river and explore Blackhawk island. Though field trip goers did not end up getting to go paddling due to high water levels, they were able to take a boat tour around the island.

One of the first stops was the Devil’s Elbow, a 90-degree bend in the river. The bend is so extreme that boats need to honk to signal to other boats that they are going through. Only one boat fits safely with the fast running current and sharp bend. This plays an important role during the summer months when tourist traffic increases in the Dells.

Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

Conservation 101

Field Trip goers also learned a lot about how boat loading and unloading was affecting areas of the river. Areas where the road runs along the river was a typical spot to load and unload extra passengers. This depleted the plants on the river’s shoreline and was dangerous in terms of oncoming traffic on the road.

This also increased the amount of trash that was thrown into the river in these areas as boaters did not want to bring it back to their cars with them. In order to combat the impact on water quality and plants in these areas, Upham Woods reduced the amount of locations where people can load and unload.

Once on Blackhawk Island they were able to hike to different corners of the island. From sandstone caves to sandbars, they discovered a unique mix of forest plants and animals. Ranging from peat moss to ferns and birds to deer. On the north side of the island, white oak and white pine trees are the dominant plant species.


Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

Welcome Intruders

However, with a local deer population of nearly 100, it has become difficult for some plants to flourish. There are deer ex-closures (areas fenced off to deer) on the island to help measure the impact they’re having. The plants within the ex-closures have grown higher in number, have brighter colors, and keep their flowers longer.

In the meantime, Upham Woods staff hopes to open hunting on the island as well as incorporate gun and hunting training/safety for kids. This will allow them to control the deer population and increase the growth of the natural plants on the island.

Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

“Roughing It”

For those that enjoy the outdoors for all it is, this may be the camping spot for you. Camping in these areas is limited to what some would call “roughing it.” The Center offers limited camping opportunities to ensure the conservation of plants and animals, human impact is kept to a minimum, meaning no pop-up campers or unnecessary trash. The Center provides exceptional dorm like and cabin housing for those planning an overnight exploration.

Learn more here:

Photo by Hannah Schroepfer 

Nature at its Finest

This experience was a great way to get firsthand knowledge on why the Foundation and other conservation programs do what they do.

Protecting our natural resources can be as simple as limiting boat loading and unloading, or ensuring those who are camping are practicing “leave no trace” principles. By understanding the importance of conservation, we can make a difference for the places we love.

By Hannah Schroepfer, Communications Assistant

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