Easy on the Environment and No Sticker Shock at Wisconsin State Parks

Of course you’d expect Wisconsin’s state parks to be bastions of environmental responsibility. After all, unspoiled natural resources are their very stock in trade. But there is a commitment among the state park system to kick it up a notch by having individual parks become voluntarily certified as Travel Green Wisconsin destinations.

According to Kimberly Currie, property services section chief for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the certification is also a way to remind visitors to do their part in treading lightly on the earth. “We always champion the use of recyclable containers and ask visitors to take back what they bring in; wash and reuse on their next trip to a state park,” Currie said. She also offered this tidbit: More than a dozen state parks--and the number is growing--now have electric vehicles. Look for these emissions-free mini-trucks when you’re visiting and give the driver a wave of approval.

By the way, you won’t have to shell out a huge stack of greenbacks to enjoy the state parks either. Those stickers buy you admission to all the state parks and forests for the calendar year. Prefer a day pass? The Department of Natural Resources offers that too. Care to test-drive the experience before you buy? Then take advantage of the annual Wisconsin State Parks Open House, always the first weekend in June, when admission to all state parks is free.

While more than 35 state parks, forests, trails and recreation areas are Travel Green Wisconsin certified, we’ve included a brief description of some of the top point-getters. Those five represent a cross-section of the state’s geography, which means you shouldn’t have to travel far to enjoy one of these standouts.

Peninsula State Park - Fish Creek

A little more than halfway up the Door County peninsula is Fish Creek and Peninsula State Park. This park, with sky-high bluffs that are part of the Niagara Escarpment, is considered by many to be the state’s “most complete park,” with hundreds of campsites, bike trails, an 1860s-era lighthouse and eight miles of shoreline. There’s even an 18-hole golf course here and a professional summer theatre performance space. But back to those bluffs – get up-close by hiking the Eagle Trail, climbing the 75-foot observation tower or kayaking along the shore. The park participates in the Clean Boat, Clean Waters program to stop the spread of invasive species. They have a recycling program in place and print their educational pieces on recycled paper among other green initiatives.

Devil’s Lake State Park - Baraboo

This park, not far from Wisconsin Dells, is the most visited state park in Wisconsin, so follow the lead of the approximately 1.3 million who already know and love Devil’s Lake State Park and give it a look-see. There’s a 360-acre spring-fed lake with 500-foot bluffs towering over it and nearly 30 miles of trails. Not to be missed is Parfrey’s Glen, Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area, designated back in 1952. This spectacular gorge chiseled in to the ancient Cambrian-era sandstone bluffs of the Baraboo Hills is great for amateur geologists. Birdwatchers will want to keep an eye out for a pair of state-threatened birds – the cerulean warbler and the Acadian flycatcher. As for green innovations: prairie restoration, a rain garden, prevention of invasive species and low-flow bathroom fixtures and energy-efficient light bulbs were all tallied in the Travel Green Wisconsin certification.

Big Bay State Park - La Pointe

Across the bay from Bayfield lies Madeline Island, the largest of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. Hop the Madeline Ferry Line to the island and spend the day at Big Bay State Park. Sporting rugged wooded cliffs and dramatic views of Lake Superior, hikers will find more than seven miles of hiking and nature trails, a mile-plus long beach and boardwalk. In keeping with the strong spirit of sustainability in Bayfield and Madeline Island, Big Bay State Park incorporates Leave No Trace principles and keeps their visitors educated about their recycling programs. Of special note is a 50-meter tall tower erected in the park that collects wind data to study the future feasibility of wind turbines on Madeline Island.

Hartman Creek State Park - Waupaca

Coming in at roughly 1,400 acres, this park near the Chain O’Lakes (22 interconnected spring-fed lakes) in central Wisconsin has a nice four-season recreation reputation. It’s a favorite for canoeists and kayakers looking for quiet waters. Pope Lake and the adjacent wetlands are a designated State Natural Area. Hikers like the solitude too. Off-road bicyclists gravitate toward the Green Bay Lobe section of the park where glacial remains formed gently rolling ridges known as recessional moraines. Like other Travel Green Wisconsin certified parks, Leave No Trace principles are promoted here, there’s a recycling program in place and park projects include prairie restoration and removal of invasive species.

Lake Kegonsa State Park - Stoughton

This park south of Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison is a bit of a best-kept secret. Visitors like to set up camp here among the tall oak trees, take a hike on the five-mile trail, and then enjoy a dip in the glacier-hewed lake. Lake Kegonsa is more than 30 feet deep and covers 3,200 acres. In the winter, cross country skiers take to the trails. The park has already completed a shoreline erosion control project and a boardwalk was built with recycled materials to further minimize the impact on the marsh. Oak woods restoration is ongoing. The staff here also works hard to prevent the introduction of invasive species through action and education.

For more Travel Green Wisconsin certified state parks, use the Travel Green Wisconsin directory.