Muralt Bluff Prairie

Muralt Bluff Prairie is the largest preserve managed by the Prairie Bluff Chapter, and a site with special significance for The Prairie Enthusiasts who consider it the place where our efforts for prairie preservation began some 40 years ago. Muralt Bluff and additions to the propertiy are dry prairies on a bluff with a thin limestone cap over sloping sandstone sides. Federal and state listed species that have been observed here:  Bell’s vireo, regal fritillary, Ottoe skipper, one-flowered broomrape, prairie dandelion, kittentails and Hill’s thistle. 

Site steward
Tom Mitchell, email

Access & directions
The parking lot for Muralt Bluff Prairie is located near W2635 County F, between Monticello and Albany.   Access is by foot only up the steep bluff, and a trail will take you to the farthest west end.  You can return by following the firebreak along the south and east edges.   



Further information

Usage policies


The preserve is open to the public.  However, we ask that dogs be kept on a leash during the bird breeding season from May through July.  Collecting plants, rocks or animals is NOT allowed. 

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Description & significance

Muralt Bluff and Muralt South are dry prairies on a bluff with a thin limestone cap over sloping sandstone sides.  Outcrops of both rocks are present on the sites.  Erratic boulders from an earlier episode of glaciation are present.  The last advance of the ice sheet stopped about 10 miles to the northeast 16,000 to 18,000 years ago, but a pro-glacial lake, named Glacial Lake Broadhead by Wisconsin geologists, backed up the valleys of Sylvester and Searles Creeks and the Sugar and Little Sugar Rivers, flooding the broad valley to the north of Muralt Bluff.  The elevation is above the 1,000 foot contour and views of Blue Mounds, some 40 miles distant, are possible.


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Natural history

Best times to visit to see wildflowers are spring and fall.  In early May there is a large population of prairie smoke on the northwest bluff, along with kittentails, shooting stars, puccoon, violets, sand cress and pasque flowers.  Later in autumn you can see all the tall grasses, nine kinds of asters, five species of goldenrods, gentians and blazing stars.  Federal and state listed species that have been observed here:  Bell’s vireo, regal fritillary, Ottoe skipper, one-flowered broomrape, prairie dandelion, kittentails and Hill’s thistle.   But changes in the surrounding land use have reduced the available grassland habitat from hundreds of acres in the 1970s to only the Muralt footprint today
 
On July 20, 2014, a visitor to Muralt Bluff Prairie posted to the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association (SWBA) website a tally of the more than 100 butterflies that he spotted:  including giant swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtails, clouded sulphurs, coral hairstreaks, summer azures, great spangled fritillaries, pearl crescents, question marks, eastern comma, mourning cloak, American lady, red admirals, red-spotted purples, common wood nymphs, monarchs, northern broken-dash and Delaware skipper. 

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Ownership history

During the early 1970s Albany natives Gary Eldred and John Ochsner independently discovered this patch of unusual tall grasses and flowers.  The next spring in April of 1975, together with Jonathan Wilde, Tim Hammerli and others, they dropped a match in the southeast corner and watched the fire follow the wind across the field to the north.  Their suppression  tools – snow shovels and burlap bags -- proved inadequate to slow or stop the fire.  The Albany Fire Department responded to reports of a wild fire, but they were unable to get their trucks up the bluff, so everyone stood and watched as the fire eventually ran out of fuel.  Many cedar trees were scorched, the ground was blackened.  But that summer the bloom of flowers – long suppressed by lack of fire – was impressive enough that the Green County Board of Supervisors was persuaded to buy the acreage.
 
Muralt Bluff was dedicated as a Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1977.  In 1981 the county purchased an additional 12 acres – South Muralt – with the help of The Nature Conservancy.  The county deeded Muralt Bluff (62 acres) and South Muralt to The Prairie Enthusiasts in September, 2013.  With adjacent Iltis Savanna this is a 95-acre mosaic of prairie, savanna and woodland.  A fourth parcel, Stauffacher Prairie, which is located a mile away across from Gap Church on Highway 59, is considered by the DNR to be part of the Muralt Bluff  SNA although that land is owned by the State of Wisconsin.

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Management

Management efforts by Prairie Bluff Chapter in the last few years have expanded the prairie by removing colonies of aspen, sumac, dogwood, prickly ash and honeysuckle that had invaded from the fence lines and wooded edges to smother and shade out the native plants and grasses. 

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