Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How to Visit Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are eight federal national wildlife refuges in the state of Wisconsin.

Vast open amounts of land restored and protected for thousands of specifies (threatened, endangered and non-protective status) of birds, fish, land animals, trees and plants to name just a few. Places you can easily access, explore, learn and gain an even greater appreciation for the outdoors.
The closest national wildlife refuge to my door is the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and it's one of my favorite places in Wisconsin. Located in Mayville, a total of more than 33,000 acres (14 miles tall, by 3-6 miles wide) set aside for pure conservation and recreation by joint efforts between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The upper larger portion (about 22,000 acres) of the marsh area is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where as the 11,000 or so acres below sits as a designated State Wildlife Area. The federal batch of protected land was officially established and named in 1941 in an effort to create a safe harbor for migrating birds and waterfowl and also a place for people to indulge in various hobbies and recreational activities that revolve around the outdoors.
The area as a whole was carved out, like most of Wisconsin’s diverse terrain, by glaciers. Fun fact, part of the Niagara Escarpment, a rocky layer that stretches some 230 miles across the state of Wisconsin is the reason for some of the rolling hills in parts of the refuge. This is the largest, freshwater marsh in the country. Miles of hiking trails, boardwalks, an driving  loop, picnic areas, endless spots to take pictures and plenty of opportunities for interpretation activities at the visitor centers. Serene forests, calm rivers, thick marshes and flowing prairie fields of wildflowers join with hundreds of species of wildlife in one spot. Muskrats, snakes, redhead ducks, fish, monarch butterflies, bumble bees busy pollinating, deer, American white pelicans, black-crowned night-herons, egrets, yellow legs, tundra swans, snowy owls, coots, sandhill cranes and tons of snapping and painted turtles and Canada geese. You’ll see everything. Horicon Marsh is a migratory bird hot spot for geese, ducks, and other waterfowl that migrate south from Canada's Hudson Bay in the fall, and vice-versa in the spring.  For a complete, detailed history of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, click here.
Plan to spend an entire day exploring here. Check-in at the main visitor center and federal refuge office on Headquarters Road to pick up a map, see cool exhibits, pick up a souvenir at the giftshop, and stroll on their observation deck out back for a expansive view of the refuge. Then, head north on County Z, following it along until you go left onto highway 49. This perfectly-straight strip of road will take you right through the upper portion of the marsh towards Waupun (where the nearest gas station is). Watch out for wildlife trying to cross this busy highway. If you see a turtle struggling to quickly make it to the other side, pull over and help the little fellow out. I’d also recommend stopping to get out and see huge broad views looking south on the marsh.
Head towards the Auto Tour and trail parking area on 49, located near the west branch of the Rock River. The 2.7 mile Auto Tour is enjoyable and you will see wildlife, but go and actually hike the land. Start on the Redhead Trail (2.5 miles) but continue on to the Red Fox Trail (1 mile) which leads you to the Egret (.7 mile) and Boardwalk (.3 mile) trails. I spent a little over 3 hours hiking around, stopping to take pictures and get a more up-close look at a few things I found on the trail. Make sure you’ve got a big memory card for your camera too. The Redhead Trail was great as it takes you through all the different aspects of terrain you’d find here at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.... and see tons of wildlife!
Then, get in your car and either go east or westward around the marsh until you find Main Dike Road, a gravel, road surrounded by cat tails and marsh grass. It does get pretty bumpy and wet in some places so make sure your car is capable. Minutes later You’ll come to a scenic dead end at the base of the Rock River. It’s almost as if time freezes here because it’s just so peaceful and uninterrupted. Finish off the day by doing the whole, Horicon Marsh Auto Route around the entire area which will tack on 36 well-worth it miles on to your odometer.

Places like Horicon National Wildlife Refuge are a clear reminder of why it’s astronomically crucial to understand, respect and protect untouched land like this.