Walking Iron County Park
Ownership and History
Walking Iron County Park is owned by Dane County; the prairies and oak
savannas are managed for the County by The Prairie Enthusiasts. Walking
Iron County Park has 288 acres offering miles of hiking and equestrian
trails winding through restored prairies and wooded areas. The prairies
represent only a small part of this acreage. The Village of Mazomanie
was established in the 1850s as an important railroad stop and the term
“Walking Iron” derives from a Ho-Chunk word for railroad: “the iron that
There are three entrances, one inside the Village of Mazomanie at 636
Hudson Road, an entrance to horse trails at 645 Segebrecht Road; and the
principal entrance at 6064 Beckman Road in the Town of Mazomanie (see
map). The entrance to the prairies is the Beckman Road entrance, reached
from Hudson Road just west of the village. From Hudson Road turn right
onto Beckman Road soon after crossing the Black Earth Creek bridge. The
Park entrance is about a mile to the north.
Description and significance
Although Walking Iron County Park is in the Driftless Area, it was profoundly
influenced by the glacier. The melting of a large ice mass near Middleton
caused formation of a major river, which laid down thick sand beaches
extending far into Iowa County to the west. Most of the Park is located
on sandy uplands that extend north toward present-day Wisconsin River.
The prairie here is a remnant of the vast original prairie that extended through the sandy Wisconsin River bottoms west to Spring Green and beyond. Areas that were not prairie were oak savanna or bottomland forest. European settlers commented on the beautiful fields of colorful flowers here.
The highlight of Walking Iron Park is Pasque Flower Prairie, a high quality remnant reminiscent of prehistoric times. Prehistorically, the Native Americans used fire to maintain their hunting grounds. After settlement, it was kept open in part by natural wildfires. In present times, prescribed fire is managed by The Prairie Enthusiasts in conjunction with personnel from Dane County Parks.
|Getting ready for a Prairie Enthusiasts burn at Walking Iron Park. Pasque Flower Prairie is behind the trees in the background.|
The best known plant of Pasque Flower Prairie is, of course, the pasque flower (Anemone patens) itself. This is one of the earliest blooming species in the prairie, often appearing very soon after the final snows have melted.
|One of the earliest blooming flowers is the pasque flower (Anemone patens).|
Other colorful plants of the spring flora are lupine, prairie smoke,
and sand puccoon. Mid-summer flowers include white and purple prairie
clover, yellow coneflower, bergamot, and rosin weed. In the late summer
the prairie grasses wave in the breeze. Early fall brings goldenrods,
asters, and gentians. There is always something blooming in Pasque Flower
|White and purple prairie clovers are common in Pasque Flower Prairie in mid-summer.|
To the east and north of Pasque Flower Prairie is a nice oak savanna, which is being kept open by occasional prescribed burns. Among the oaks are prairie and savanna grasses and a characteristic flora of savanna forbs.
Due to years of neglect, some parts of Walking Iron Park had become degraded with weeds and invasive brush. TPE member Kay Bongers spearheaded restoration work and did yeoman work on her own, leading to an impressive transformation of the prairie. The Prairie Enthusiasts took over this work in around 2004.
Dedicated volunteer Kay Bongers
A major problem was the development of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), an introduced and very invasive plant. This tree is a legume: a member of the bean family. It forms vast clones of trees, all connected underground by runners. Simply cutting these trees will not eradicate them, because new grubs will sprout up from the roots. Eradication of black locust is a multi-year task.
In addition to the prairie remnants, to the east are some larger areas of planted prairie, in areas that at one time had crops.