Guided Pathways to Wisconsin Nature
By Pat Dillon
Wisconsin was once nearly solid open prairies and wetlands, woodlands and oak savannas, pristine lakes and waterways. Nature centers in Wisconsin provide access to these painstakingly maintained or restored habitats to thousands of species of plants, animals and birdlife. Visitors can take guided tours or often just roam pathways contouring Wisconsin’s indigenous beauty. Here are nature centers with features unique to each.
Aldo Leopold Nature Center - Black Earth Campus - Black Earth
Aldo Leopold is one of Wisconsin’s most celebrated environmentalists. Monona and Black Earth are home to the Aldo Leopold Nature Centers that carry on his vision through programming connecting people to nature. Here award-winning interactive trails—94 acres in Monona and 38 acres in Black Earth—course through prairies and woodlands and along wetlands. The centers offer several group programs for kids and families, seasonal events, summer nature camps, plus the trails are open for drop-in use provided classes are not in session.
The Cable Museum of Natural History building is as green as the Northwoods that surrounds it, and both are accessible to Cable visitors. The museum offers naturalist programs geared to children and adults, a lecture series and field trips throughout the year. Ask about their state-of-the-art building design that uses clean energy including a geothermal design that takes energy from the earth to heat and cool the facility, and other energy-efficient features. They also own 40 acres 10 miles outside Cable with nature trails that are open to the public.
The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest Savanna restorations in Wisconsin. Birding is big here, with 110 species of migratory and resident birds, including its pet project: the protection of the endangered Whooping Cranes. Wildlife also roams the 43,656 acres with wolf packs and white-tailed deer commingling with whooping cranes, ringed bog hunter dragonflies and the endangered Karner blue butterflies. It’s a carefully monitored eco-system with observation fields, a lookout tour, and a network of walking trails.
The Urban Ecology Center started as a humble center out of a double-wide trailer, put first to clean up Riverside Park for neighborhood use. That trailer has been replaced by a remarkable 20,000 sq. ft. green building that’s design has won numerous awards for its use of recycled and renewable materials, like recycled slate blackboards from a local church, sustainable lumber donated by the Menominee Tribal Enterprises and interior furniture made with sustainable trees.
But this just skims over the self-supporting qualities of this beautiful urban centerpiece. Go tour this remarkable building at the Riverside Park location or participate in a plethora of environmentally-enriching activities, programs and classes at all three. There’s free bike and cross-country ski use too. Become a member for canoe and kayak use! Locations in Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menominee Valley.
The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on Lake Michigan on Milwaukee’s north shore is six miles of hiking trails throughout 185 acres of pristine land. The center is housed in an award-winning LEED green building and offers a huge selection of nature programming. You can take an organized trip to state designated natural areas or weekly yoga classes. Programming options are plentiful and led by naturalists who discuss everything from birding to butterflies.