Tom's Blog

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Willow Creek savanna

On one of those nice sunny days when there was still a good snow, Kathie and I walked by the Willow Creek Woods savanna on the U.W. Campus. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this savanna is associated with a nice group of effigy mounds that date back to about 500 A.D. Although the savanna had deteriorated severely over the years, the restoration work now finding so much good support on campus is bringing it back to glory. (The restoration work done for this savanna was based on a plan constructed by former Botany graduate student Stephen Thomforde.)

The photo above incorporates one of the large bur oaks, as well as the largest effigy mound.

It is interesting to note how "urban" this savanna is. In addition to the Natatorium (built in the early 1960s), there is the new lakeshore dormitory visible in the background, plus some relic maintenance buildings that crowd not only some of the oaks but also the mounds. Buildings like the two small gray ones can be seen all over Madison. Many of these buildings were built by the Trachte Company of Sun Prairie and date back to the 1920s. These two here probably qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Buildings!

Not visible, but hidden on this site and known to bacteriologists, is the location where a dead cow infected with anthrax was buried. According to one news report from U.W., this cow was part of an outbreak of anthrax on campus. At one time there was a sign marking the site. About two years ago a local resident who knew the site took me to see it. Despite the notoriety of anthrax spores, there should no longer be a hazard here.

The brass plaque at the edge of the mounds, shown in thephoto, was typical of those that the university installed in the 1920s. These plaques were constructed under the purview of State Archeologist Charles E. Brown. Similar plaques can be found elsewhere on campus, as this area was one of the prime habitation sites of the Middle to Late Woodlands peoples.


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