Tom's Blog

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Walking Iron Prairie fall burn

The fall weather this year has provided good conditions for small prairie burns. See my post for a general discussion of fall prairie burns.

Walking Iron Prairie, part of the Dane County Park System, is an excellent small prairie known for its outstanding displays of pasque flowers in the spring. Also noteworthy is Hill's thistle, prairie smoke, white prairie clover, and Carolina puccoon. At one time the Empire-Sauk chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts had a web page on Walking Iron, but this got deleted during a modernization activity. Since I wrote this web page, I am taking the liberty of copying the key content at the end of this post.

However, this prairie thrives on being burned, and for the past ten years, due to a set of unusual circumstances, burns have mostly been nonexistent. This year a group of dedicated Dane County Parks volunteers led by Denny Connor, came together and, using the highly favorable fall weather, burned the key portions of the site.

Wetlining the fire line in preparation for lighting (Denny and Ron).
Lots of black oak grubs will be set back by the fire, thus keeping the prairie open.
A wide hiking trail goes through the middle of the prairie. The unit on the right has already been burned, and the unit on the left is now being burned. Note the large brush patch burning.

Enjoying Walking Iron County Park

Walking Iron County Park

Ownership and History
Walking Iron County Park is owned by Dane County. Walking Iron County Park has 288 acres offering miles of hiking and equestrian trails winding through restored prairies and wooded areas. The prairies represent only a small part of this acreage. The Village of Mazomanie was established in the 1850s as an important railroad stop and the term “Walking Iron” derives from a Ho-Chunk word for railroad: “the iron that walks”.

There are three entrances, one inside the Village of Mazomanie at 636 Hudson Road, an entrance to horse trails at 645 Segebrecht Road; and the principal entrance at 6064 Beckman Road in the Town of Mazomanie. The entrance to the prairies is the Beckman Road entrance, reached from Hudson Road just west of the village. From Hudson Road turn right onto Beckman Road soon after crossing the Black Earth Creek bridge. The Park entrance is about a mile to the north.

Description and significance
Although Walking Iron County Park is in the Driftless Area, it was profoundly influenced by the glacier. The melting of a large ice mass near Middleton caused formation of a major river, which laid down thick sand beaches extending far into Iowa County to the west. Most of the Park is located on sandy uplands that extend north toward present-day Wisconsin River.

The prairie here is a remnant of the vast original prairie that extended through the sandy Wisconsin River bottoms west to Spring Green and beyond. Areas that were not prairie were oak savanna or bottomland forest. European settlers commented on the beautiful fields of colorful flowers here.
The highlight of Walking Iron Park is Pasque Flower Prairie, a prairie remnant reminiscent of prehistoric times. Prehistorically, the Native Americans used fire to maintain their hunting grounds. After settlement, it was kept open in part by natural wildfires. In present times, prescribed fire is managed by Dane County Parks.

The best known plant of Pasque Flower Prairie is, of course, the pasque flower (Anemone patens) itself. This is one of the earliest blooming species in the prairie, often appearing very soon after the final snows have melted.

Other colorful plants of the spring flora are lupine, prairie smoke, and sand puccoon. Mid-summer flowers include white and purple prairie clover, yellow coneflower, bergamot, and rosin weed. In the late summer the prairie grasses wave in the breeze. Early fall brings goldenrods, asters, and gentians. There is always something blooming in Pasque Flower Prairie.

To the east and north of Pasque Flower Prairie is a nice oak savanna, which is being kept open by occasional prescribed burns. Among the oaks are prairie and savanna grasses and a characteristic flora of savanna forbs.

Volunteer work parties are occasionally held at Walking Iron Park, for the control of invasive brush and weeds. For information, send an email to:

Rhea Stangel-Maier


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