Hauser Road Prairie

ABOUT THE SITE

Located in just north of Waunakee, WI, the 45-acre Hauser Road Prairie is the largest remaining single piece of the original 100-square mile Empire Prairie that once covered much of what is now northern Dane County and southern Columbia County. The site’s ridge top hill has many areas of shallow soil over dolomite bedrock, and the abundance of glacially-deposited boulders prevented it from being tilled, so it was lightly grazed for 100 years until the 1990’s. Hauser Road Prairie is only 15 miles from downtown Madison, and has the unusual feature for a prairie remnant - a view of the Wisconsin state capitol from the hilltop!
 
This is an important natural feature in a rapidly developing area. In the spring this remnant prairie has great displays of shooting star, pasque flower, prairie and birdfoot violets and prairie smoke. By late summer and into fall there is an abundance of cylindrical (dwarf) blazingstar, brilliant displays of showy goldenrod, and many stiff and prairie gentians.  There are also populations of two state-threatened plants, ten species of specialized leafhoppers found only on prairie remnants, as well as badgers and an array of grassland birds. 
 

Site steward
Randy Hoffman (608) 849-4502, greatnaturewi@gmail.com
Empire Sauk Chapter
 

Access & directions

Visitors are welcome. Hauser Road Prairie is located 4 miles north of Waunakee, WI on the south side of Hauser Road. From the junction of Hwys 19 and 113 in Waunakee, take Hwy 113 north 2.5 miles to Madigan Road (right turn), follow Madigan Road for 1 mile to Hauser Road, turn right.  Site is 0.2 miles on the right. Park along the road well off the pavement.

Photo by Kurt Westbrook

Volunteers

Volunteers are vital to the management of this prairie. Join us for a workday on Hauser Road Prairie and the other prairie remnants in the area to collect and plant seed, control weeds and brush, conduct biological monitoring, and help with other management activities. For more details, contact Randy at greatnaturewi@gmail.com.


Usage policies

   Allowed uses:

  • Walking
  • Bird watching
  • Hunting & trapping (contact site steward)
  • Cross country skiing

   Not allowed:

  • Bicycles or vehicles
  • Pets
  • Campfires
  • Collection of seed, flowers, plants or the removal of rocks or other natural objects.


Description & significance

 
A total of 148 prairie plant species have been found on site so far.  There are great displays of shooting star, pasque flower, prairie and birdfoot violets, prairie smoke, purple prairie clover, prairie goldenrods and asters, and prairie and stiff gentians.  A viable population of the state-threatened Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii) is present, along with recovering populations of uncommon species such as valerian, smooth white lettuce and heart-leaved golden alexander.

Some prairie plants sensitive to grazing apparently survived in a narrow strip between the plow line and the fence or as very rare, scattered individuals in some cases.  Over the past 30 years these rarities are starting to recolonize the former pasture. They include prairie phlox, leadplant, compass plant, rosinweed, rattlesnake master, and prairie blazingstar. For more details, see this article from March 2016 Prairie Promoter.


Protection history


In July of 2014, The Prairie Enthusiasts took on the ownership, care, and management of Hauser Road Prairie.  With grants from the Wisconsin DNR Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the Dane County Conservation Fund and a loan from The Conservation Fund (a national non-profit), TPE acquired title to this impressive big sky ridge of natural heritage.
 
The permanent protection of Hauser Road Prairie was the culmination of 22 years of effort by The Prairie Enthusiasts and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) Natural Areas Program.  In the early 1980s, the conservation community became aware that prairie was surviving in the 45-acre pasture along Hauser Road.  In 1992, TPE volunteers reached out to the new owners of the site to inform them of the treasure they had and offered advice, help and encouragement in conserving the site.  From 2000 to 2014, the Natural Areas Program leased the land and conducted several prescribed burns and some brush control.  TPE also mowed sweet clover and provided other weed control measures during this time.

In 2013, the owners, Mike and Susan Zauner, decided they would like the site permanently protected.  The Natural Areas program negotiated with them to buy the site and to designate it a State Natural Area, but the project was not accepted by the WI DNR administration.  The Prairie Enthusiasts offered to step in and acquire the site by applying for grants from Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the Dane County Conservation Fund, which covered three-quarters of the acquisition expenses. TPE was able to pay the remainder thanks to generous donations from TPE members from across the
organization. 


Management


With a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Private Lands Program and the efforts of site steward Randy Hoffman and other volunteers, great progress has been made at Hauser Road Prairie removing trees and brush from the preserve.

The years of grazing took its toll on the composition of the prairie vegetation, eliminating some species, reducing others and allowing non-native grasses to invade, especially in the deeper soils areas.  However, much of the original prairie ecosystem survived and has been making a good recovery since the cessation of grazing and the implementation of an occasional prescribed burn from 2000 to 2013.

Fortunately, there are several high-quality small prairie remnants within a few miles of the preserve harboring the full range of prairie species native to the area. Our management goal for Hauser Road Prairie is to bring seed from those remnants to the preserve to accelerate its recovery and to reintroduce lost species such as wood lily, wood betony and rough white lettuce.  With burning and inter-seeding, we hope to bring back most, if not all, of the site’s original diverse prairie plant community over the next 30 years.

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