Volunteers Braved Winter in Wisconsin to Help with Land Restoration

Volunteers smile and wave at the camera during lunch.
Volunteers smile and wave during the Steenbock Preserve HIP event. Photo by Bob Leedle.

More than 130 volunteers braved winter in Wisconsin—the frigid temperatures, icy terrain, and blustery wind—and volunteered at one (or multiple) of the Alliance’s Habitat Improvement Program (HIP) events.

Winter is the ideal time for controlling woody invasives. Snow cover offers relatively safe conditions for burning brush piles, and the cold temps prevent folks from overheating.

The goals of the HIP events include:

  • Enhancing hikers’ experiences along the Ice Age Trail.
  • Advancing the process of restoring native habitats by removing invasive species.
  • Creating space for a variety of native plant species and wildlife to use these habitats.

We couldn’t preserve, restore, and maintain the land’s beauty without the help of so many dedicated volunteers.

A sawyer helping a youth volunteer use the leaf blower to assist the brush fire.
A sawyer helping a youth volunteer during the Swamplovers Preserve HIP event. Photo by Kevin Thusius.

January 20 – 21, Table Bluff Segment, Dane County – Swamplovers and Holmes Preserves

Seventy volunteers dedicated more than 600 service hours to removing and burning invasive brush, creating space for oak trees to grow. Ultimately this work will restore the area’s oak woodlands.

An all-woman Trailtessa crew (retreats designed by women for women) also joined the event. They worked at the Holmes Preserve as part of a grant awarded through the “Landowner Incentive Program” with the Wisconsin DNR. The goal of this program is to restore forests back to oak openings and woodlands.

Volunteers were excited to kick-off the 2023 HIP season and play a crucial role in land restoration! This was laborious work, but a critical first step in restoring the preserve’s oak woodlands.

A sawyer uses a chainsaw to cut a large piece of wood.
A sawyer in action during the Mammoth's Back Preserve HIP event. Photo by Bob Leedle.

February 3 – 4, Cross Plains Segment, Dane County – Mammoth’s Back Preserve

Twenty-five volunteers came out and donated 195 service hours to the second HIP event. (Extreme cold cancelled the planned work day on February 3). They removed woody vegetation to create conditions for the preserve’s remnant prairie to flourish.

After Mammoth’s Back Preserve was acquired in 2020, “a five-year plan was developed, largely by volunteers, to restore the remnant bluff prairie that is still present underneath,” says Steve Pence, the Alliance’s Land Restoration Specialist and HIP Technical Advisor.

“After the HIP event, we are a year ahead of schedule and the highest quality prairie has been restored,” says Pence.

A volunteer throws brush into a fire.
A volunteer throws brush into a fire during the Steenbock Preserve HIP event. Photo by Maura Hanley.

February 9 – 10, Gibraltar Rock Segment, Columbia County – Steenbock Preserve

The HIP season concluded on February 10, with thirty-seven volunteers donating 310 service hours to chopping down eastern red cedar and removing invasive brush from the remnant prairie and savanna.

A slushy snow storm cancelled Thursday’s event, but volunteers were in good spirits and eager to get to work on Friday. Their efforts continued progress toward revealing the viewshed of Lake Wisconsin and the Baraboo Hills.

When the restoration process began at the Steenbock Preserve seven years ago, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail’s ridgetop path cut through a dense cedar forest, and had limited views of the landscape. Now, hikers can see the distant Baraboo Hills on the horizon from the top of the same ridge.

“Thank you everyone who volunteered at a HIP Event. I was constantly amazed at your dedication to the Trail and restoring its surrounding habitats. Thank you for making it a great first year for me at the Alliance, and I look forward to hopefully working with many of you again in the future!” – Steve Pence

The winter HIP events may be over, but there is still plenty of restoration work to be done in the coming months:

“Some of the next steps in the restoration process include controlling re-sprouts of the brush we remove, prescribed burning, and planting native species that historically existed or in the more degraded areas where the native seed bank has been depleted,” says Pence.

To everyone who helped make this event a success, a special thanks to:

  • Lodi Valley Chapter for cookies and general project support.
  • Dane County Chapter for so many pre-project workdays and expertise at the Cross Plains and Table Bluff projects.
  • Our sawyers who – after previously being trained and tested – worked so hard and so safely cutting trees and brush.
  • The SwampLovers: a team of landowners who began the land’s restoration and transferred the property’s ownership to the Alliance.
  • The Sievers family whose shortcut access to the Steenbock Preserve made the walk in/out faster and safer.
  • WisDOT for allowing us to use the ColSac Ferry parking lot as our base.

Next Up: April 27-30, 2023, Rib Lake Segment, Taylor County

If you like building boardwalk, or want more practice with the craft, this is the project for you! We’re installing four structures to protect wetlands and keep boots dry along four brand-new miles in Taylor County. Registration info coming soon!

See what is planned for the 2023 MSC Trailbuilding season! Check out the full schedule.