Trails, creek, and history weave through Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton

Posted by Samantha Haas on Monday, March 26th, 2018 at 11:23am.

Among the most popular of the Dane County Parks is Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a spectacular natural resource area in Middleton.

The 500-plus-acre area features oak savanna, prairie, marsh, woodland, and sedge meadow. Running through it are a network of trails and a spring-fed creek that produces nearly 2 million gallons of fresh water each day and attracts abundant wildlife. Boils bubble to the surface of the springs, which stay 52 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Be sure to listen and look for the multitude of birds (and other critters) who inhabit this special place.

It's quite common to hear stones crunch from runners, families pushing strollers, and bicyclists using the Pheasant Branch Trail, which also stretches out through the John C. Bock Community Forest and nearly five miles southwest of the conservancy.

If you're looking for a quieter retreat, walk the path to Frederick's Hill. Here you can pause at a bench under an oak tree to look out over the conservancy and its winding creek, the highly sought-after Middleton Hills, Northlake, and Woodcreek Village neighborhoods, Lake Mendota, and even the State Capitol. 

A historical marker between the parking lot at 4864 Pheasant Branch Road and trail about the Pheasant Branch Encampment reads, "On the night of July 20th, during the Black Hawk War of 1832, (Sauk) Indian leader Black Hawk and his followers camped near this location. Desperate for food and frightened by the approaching military, the Indians fled northwest towards the Wisconsin River the next morning."

Frederick's Hill contains protected burial mounds made by Native Americans between 500 and 1300 A.D. It also features a restored oak savanna and portions of a remnant prairie not impacted by European settlement. Farming and development eventually caused environmental issues, such as erosion and pollution, so the City of Middleton, Dane County, and the Department of Natural Resources acquired portions of the conservancy to protect it in the 1970s.

In 1995, when the city planned to put two sewers through the marsh, a small group of concerned neighbors from Woodcreek Village formed a committee and took action to reroute them. They handed out newsletters door to door, prompting 1,300 people to send postcards to the mayor in opposition. This determined group became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit now called the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, whose story is documented in this video.

Its mission is "to restore, protect, and promote the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and its watershed for now and for future generations to come." To this end, the group holds volunteer restoration workdays to remove invasive species, for example, and engages with the community through events such as its free monthly Conservancy Days series.

Learn more about its history and ecology, including a list of flora and fauna found there, on the Friends website. For another wonderful overview of the conservancy, check out this blog post by Bill Lunney, chair of the Dane County Parks Commission and Friends of Dane County Parks. To view more photos of the park, visit this Facebook album by Friends of Dane County Parks.

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