Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area-Then and Now

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, my Traveling Partner and I hooked up the Minnie to the Red Rover for a three day get-away to Mirror Lake State Park. We’ve camped here a number of times over the years, the sites are large and spread apart, making for a pleasant camping experience. This park is near Lake Delton in the Wisconsin Dells (we didn’t go there) and a neighbor to the much larger and more popular Devils Lake State Park. We like the smaller and quieter encounter with nature at Mirror Lake. More on that in a future post.

On one of our days at Mirror Lake, we took the fifteen minute drive over to Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, just a few miles west of Baraboo. It’s been a few years since we stopped here for the pleasant walk through the woods to Skillet Creek and the sandstone bluffs that tower above the shallow water. I have to say our visit this year was unlike those in the past. To show you the changes that have taken place on this preserve, I’ll present photos taken in 2013, 2017 and a few weeks ago. By the end, I think you’ll see what I mean. What has not changed are the sign, the rules, and the size of the parking lot. It’s small and there is a long no parking zone on the road that passes the entrance to the parking lot. 

Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area is a small, 36 acre preserve established in 1985. Even though it’s small, it does have about 8/10ths of a mile of trails. Skillet Creek that runs through the area, was created when glacial Lake Baraboo drained eons ago. Over time the creek cut through the sandstone rock making a narrow 30-40 foot gorge with a series of waterfalls and potholes. Once upon a time, there was a mill on the creek but no remnants remain of any buildings that were once on the site.

For a couple hundred yards, the path from the parking takes visitors through cedar, pine, birch, and hemlock trees. While there are a few rocks and tree roots that might trip you up, the path is level and doable for almost all abilities.

2013

What has changed over the years is the addition of a rail fence as the path gets closer to the creek. This is done to protect the limestone cliffs from climbers that can and have caused damage. Do Not Enter signs are prevalent. The path now has a layer of crushed rock, a clear indication to stay on the trail.

2021

There aren’t many changes when approaching Skillet Creek and the high cliffs that surround the entrance to the gorge. The major difference in these photos is the time of year and the amount of water flowing through the creek. This year was dry so the waterfall at the bottom of the gorge is less prominent.

2013

 

2017

 

2017

 

2021

 

2021

 

2021

Skillet Creek keeps flowing to the west. The shallow stream is littered with flat rocks that are useful as stepping stones to get to the other side.

2021

The major change that I observed on my most recent visit was to the path to the upper part of the gorge. Since 2013 and 2017, some of the trees were removed and a defined stone path created. The rail fence and DO NOT Enter signs were added to keep travelers on the path. The last photo in this shows the path going down and the ruts from erosion of the trail. The DNR will have to fix that before it gets worst and visitors begin to make their own paths as they did in the past.

2013

 

2017

 

2021

 

2021

More changes were evident at the top. The fence serves as a barrier to keep visitors from climbing the cliffs and potentially putting themselves in harms way should they slip and fall. Access also promoted cliff jumping and rock climbing causing several injuries and deaths over the years. Rescues are difficult and dangerous for first responders. There have been times when this park has been shut down due to heavy use, abuse, and littering.

Prior to the fence, it was much easier to peer into and access the gorge. With the fence in place, it’s impossible to see into the canyon. But there was evidence that the fence is being breeched on a regular basis.

2013

 

2013

 

2013

2017

On the back part of the cliff area, a worn path was visible behind the mostly ignored DO NOT ENTER sign as depicted in the top photo. The second photo shows that the fence obstructs that path and more signs were added. However, the fence can be easily climbed over, we observed a couple returning from the prohibited area. And there was a group of young folks in the canyon, we could hear them but not see them. Violators are subject to a $175.00 fine, if caught. Enforcement appears light, there is no ranger on site. This is why we can’t have nice things, people flaunt the rules and make it difficult for all to enjoy the natural beauty.

2017

 

2021

I’ll close with a few random scenic and nature photos I took at Pewit’s Nest over the years.

2013

2013

This is a tree gall, an abnormal growth caused by pests such as insects, fungi, mites, or viruses. Most galls are small but can be quite large like the one in the photo below. Galls don’t normally cause harm to the tree, they have symbiotic relationship to the plant. There’s a bit of a plant physiology lesson for today!

2021

Finally, these photos were taken from the turnoff to Pewit’s Nest. I first noticed the red granary peeking over the top of corn on the edge of the field across the road. My favorite is the first one that was taken in mid-October when the leaves were at their peak. The second photo was mid-July, the corn was short so more the the granary is visible. It also appears that a coat of red paint was recently applied. The third photo was mid-September, the corn is turning but the leaves are a few weeks away from color.

2013

2017

2021

There you have it folks. Three visits to Pewit’s Nest over a period of eight years. If you go there, please observe the signs and be respectful of the sensitive natural world so future generations can enjoy this place too. If you’d like directions and more information, check out this website.

Until next week, happy travels.

Tom

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