A couple of weeks ago, we took a day trip to the Horicon Marsh located, well, near the village of Horicon in eastern South Central Wisconsin. We made the trip so Donna could purchase a National Parks Senior Pass, I’ve had one since I became eligible. This pass, for the very low price of $10 for a lifetime of use, is the best deal in America bar none! Producing this pass at the more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by six Federal agencies (National Parks, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers) entitles the owner of the pass (and sometimes up to 3 guests) reduced or free admission and reduced camping fees and guided tours. Over the past few years, we’ve used this pass extensively to gain admission to several National Parks and for reduced campground fees. We have plans to visit Mammoth Cave National Park later this month, they offer cave tours and admission is 1/2 off for each person holding a senior pass. So that’s why the trip to purchase to Horicon Marsh. For those U.S. citizens, 62 and older, the price of this pass will increase to $80 sometime this fall. Still a bargain but get it now to save even more. As a bonus we were able to spend a day exploring the Marsh and enjoying the outdoors and the wildlife that inhabits the area.
The 32,000 acre (~13,000 ha) Horicon Marsh is actually made up of two parts. The southern 1/3rd of the Marsh is owned and managed by the state of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and formally called the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area. The northern 2/3rds forms the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S. The area provides habitat for many species of birds, especially ducks, herons, egrets, and Canada geese. It’s also the home for many fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, insects and plants. One can see the evidence of the many muskrat lodges when visiting the Marsh.
The Marsh was home to many indigenous peoples evidenced by effigy mounds on the low ridges surrounding the Marsh. Artifacts dating to over 12,000 years have been discovered in the Marsh. More recently, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s European immigrants attempted to dam up the Marsh to power a sawmill that raised the water level several feet and later tried to drain the Marsh and farm the land. Those attempts failed and the land in the Marsh was declared to be “useless.” But sportsmen and conservationists recognized the value of the Marsh in providing outdoor recreation and attracting waterfowl for hunting. Their joint efforts led the state and federal governments to purchase the land for wildlife and environmental preservation.
With that background, now on to a few photos from our time at the Marsh. Our first stop upon arriving was at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area just outside the village of Horicon.
As we approach the Visitor Center, this wooly mammoth greets us. They were once common in this area so the visitor center’s replica is designed for children to get a close up look and feel of this creature.
The visitor center has a spotting scope set up for visitors to watch the nesting birds on the marsh as shown in the photo below. In 2015, an Explorium was opened that includes interactive educational displays so visitors can get a glimpse of life on the Marsh. There is a small fee but well worth the cost.
The day we visited there were several school groups exploring the area. We talked with a few high school aged girls that were using nets to catch frogs and small fish as part of their biology class. Much more interesting and fun than when I took that class, oh so many years ago! Our walk along the paths and boardwalks on this beautiful spring day were refreshing and filled with opportunities to enjoy the environment around us.
After our stop at the State Wildlife Area, we headed over to the nearby town of Mayville for some lunch. We bypassed the few fast food joints and selected the local Backstreet Cafe, a good choice as the food was very good, the service small town friendly and excellent and the prices more than reasonable. From there we headed to the National Wildlife Refuge, where we bought the senior pass and did a short walk to the edge of the Marsh where some school kids were just leaving after a talk by one of the Refuge rangers.
We made a few stops as we traveled around the Refuge to take some photos, enjoy the scenes and the respite from the noises of the city.
On the north side of the Marsh is a three mile auto tour route called the “TernPike” that takes visitors on a loop through some of the refuge habitats. There are a number of stops along the route to take hikes and get up close with the current residents. We were disappointed to learn that the Egret Trail Floating Boardwalk is closed for construction until the end of June. This popular stop along the “TernPike” takes visitors out on to the Marsh to observe the many egrets that populate the area. Below are a few photos from our drive on the auto route.
As I mentioned earlier, the Horicon Marsh is home to many species of wildlife. On the auto tour route we were greatly entertained at one stop by a gaggle of geese with their young ones. These photos raises the question: “why did the geese cross the road?!!!!” Maybe it’s because they wanted to “gander” at whatever was on the other side!! Ok, bad joke but it had to be done.
At this stop we also saw lots of other birds and waterfowl sometimes very close together such as this duck and turtle sharing the space but totally ignoring each other.
But then there were these turtles, looking like they were heading somewhere, albeit slow but nevertheless enjoying the journey!
All too soon it was time to head back home. But we vowed to return soon to do some more exploration of the area. The fall season is a great time to visit as the Marsh is a stopping off point for an estimated 200,000 geese and ducks heading south to their winter quarters. A site to behold. Hope you enjoyed the brief visit to one of our nations natural treasures.
Til next time, travel safe.