Monday, September 26, 2016

Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area, WI

I've lived in Ozaukee County for almost two-years now and I've never been to the Cedarburg Bog. Multiple friends and co-workers recommended I go check it out, so I did. But the first time I went, it was storming and the trails were impassable. Second time around, it was a great adventure!

Located north of the Cedarburg/Saukville border is this humongous, protected natural masterpiece called the Cedarburg Bog. It's designated both by the Wisconsin DNR as a State Natural Area and is a in 1952 and a National National Landmark by the National Park Service! Spanning some 2,817 acres, the Cedarburg Bog is also the largest, most-intact bog in Southeastern Wisconsin. There are six lakes in its perimeters, the biggest being Mud Lake at 245 acres, followed by Long Lake at 34.

Cedarburg Bog is a string or patterned bog. It's believed to be the southernmost string bog in North America, as they're predominantly found way up north of here. It's a uber-lush environment filled with plants and wildlife of all sorts. Home to animals like the Common Gartersnake, Red Bellied Snake, American Toad, Gray Tree Frog, Snapping Turtle, Painted Turtle; along with threatened species like the Blanding's Turtle and Butler's Gartersnake. Bio-diversity shines here and it's one of those quiet, untouched places you just have to visit. Here's a blip from the DNR's description of this unique place:

"Surrounding the lakes are areas of emergent aquatic vegetation while just outside this zone is a successional shrub-carr area. Most unusual is a string or "patterned" bog, unique here because it lies far south of its usual range in North America. It is composed of ridges of stunted cedar and tamarack that lie in an open flat sedge mat. The meadow vegetation consists of narrow-leaved sedges, pitcher plant, bogbean, water horsetail, arrow-grass, orchids, and the insectivorous sundew and bladderwort. A conifer-swamp hardwood forest is adjacent to the bog. There is a very diverse flora and fauna; many that are more common in northern boreal forests and that are at their southern range limit here."

Access to the bog is reachable via two main entry points. To reach Mud Lake, on the southern end of the Cedarburg Bog, you'll have to park at the gravel lot off of Cedar Sauk Road. There,  you'll hike in and come to a fork. I found going left to not be the best option, as the trail was mostly underwater. If you go right, you'll leave the treeline and hike about 10-minutes out to a launch area on Mud Lake. The problem, well reality, is that because it's a bog, the ground is going to be damp, sinking in places and not firm solid. So you'll have to don your best waterproof boots and be prepared to get muddy and wet. There's sort of a trail you'll follow, hopping along form whatever piece of scrap wood buried in the bog's surface you can place your feet on, hanging on to tall grass for support. When you get closer to the lake, you'll realize with every step you take all the ground around you moves and floats up and down. Scary? Yeah kind of, especially because the Cedarburg Bog is a spring-fed. Meaning stability of the ground you're walking on is near-zero. There were places my foot sunk down completely below the surface. And as you may know with all bogs, the water below is cold, and deep. Very, very, deep. There are bogs where their depths are unknown. Next time I come out here, I've got to drag my kayak with me and explore Mud Lake's 245 acres of cool water. Fear not, there's a great friends group who are working to raise funds to build a stable, reliable boardwalk out to Mud Lake. Check them out.

The best place to access the blog was from the north end, off of State Highway 33 in Newburg. Park there, and hike out  15-minutes through a gorgeous cedar-tamarack swamp forest to a boardwalk that leads you out to a pier over smaller Watt's Lake. When I arrived at the shoreline of this lake, my jaw dropped. It was so quiet, serene and just peaceful. This calm, clear, glass-still lake surrounded by a powerful line of trees. I had to sit down, journal and soak it all in. Pure wilderness. So, so, so beautiful. Head back towards the parking area and wander left down another boardwalk trail that takes you through a wet swamp full of ferns and dense vegetation. The trail continues on through a prairie opening. 

Yep, that was an epic hike. Can't wait to get back and explore this place in the fall and winter.