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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Solon Springs Pine Barrens Bird Sanctuary

Solon Springs, Wisconsin, bird sanctuary
Solon Springs Bird Sanctuary, Wisconsin (photo by JHY)
based on a news article in the Superior Telegram

“While forests are valuable, pine barrens have a unique beauty all their own,” said Fred Strand, wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR. “For me, it’s a sense of place.” The North Country Trail’s Bill Menke would be sure to agree with him.

In the 1930's the Douglas County Bird Sanctuary was established as a WPA project. The sanctuary is located just west of Solon Springs, Wisconsin. The precise name of the protected land is the Douglas County Wildlife Management Area, and it was first set aside as an area to train bird dogs in 1925. The first U.S. Chicken Championship dog trial was held there in 1937. Since that time, canine competitions have been held at the sanctuary annually.

Meanwhile, Douglas County approved a route for the North Country Trail through county forest lands. This will allow for the passage of many miles of trail, not just through the bird sanctuary.

Menke, currently serving as the Wisconsin/ Upper Michigan Regional Trail Coordinator for the North Country Trail Association, also leads a volunteer trail building group. Each year this dedicated bunch has spent several weeks of time building trail in western Wisconsin, and that has included the several miles across the sanctuary lands.

Pine barrens are more open than many of the more heavily forested areas along the NCT. The original extent of Wisconsin’s barrens was a swath 12-15 miles wide and 125 miles long. Pine barrens are characterized by sandy soil and plants that are dependent upon fire to be sustained. Human efforts to control fire coupled with forestation projects have all but halted the natural succession of barrens. Less than one percent of the original barrens remain. The Bird Sanctuary barrens are maintained by the Wisconsin DNR with prescribed burns.

Thanks to the efforts of Menke and his Rovers work crew, hikers can now cross the 4,000 acre sanctuary on a well-constructed pathway. On my own hike through the area, in September 2005, I was treated to the sight of a beaver lumbering down the trail ahead of me. It retreated to one of the small ponds.

One special springtime treat visitors can experience is to reserve a blind from which they can view the mating dance of the sharp-tailed grouse. The Bird Sanctuary is one of the best habitats for the sharp-tailed grouse in the state of Wisconsin.

Although the word “barrens” sounds desolate, Strand explained that they are actually part forest, part prairie. With components of both ecosystems, they actually support a very diverse community of plants and wildlife. Ten percent of the remaining Wisconsin barrens are protected in the Solon Springs Bird Sanctuary.

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