The Midwest Driftless Area is a glorious place. Trout Unlimited calls it a national treasure and has pinned its scaly dreams on restoring the streams that trace its deep, convoluted valleys. This dramatic landscape, carved deep by ancient water courses, is far older than the rest of the state’s landscape.
15,000 years ago most of the Upper Midwest was buried under ice. They say it towered a mile thick above Chicago. Through a quirk of geology, the glacier was diverted to the east and west of the Driftless Area and rejoined below to create an island engulfed by a frozen sea.
Because it was not scrubbed flat as the ice sheet advanced and then buried under debris called drift when the ice melted north again, it is called the Driftless Area. The result is a diversity and profusion of plants growing in pockets of rugged terrain punctuated by rocky sandstone and limestone outcroppings of stone laid down long ago on the floor of a primordial ocean.
When you drive 35 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin, to our 44 acres, you are following a geographical formation called the Military Ridge into the Driftless Area. To the north, the land falls away into deep gorges and serpentine valleys that feed the Wisconsin River. To the south, the more gentle undulations of the earth feed the Rock, Sugar River and Pecatonica rivers. In both directions streams have sliced the plateau into a maze of ridges and valleys honeycombed with caves.
It seems like a huge honor and equally huge responsibility to be made steward of 44 acres in an area that has been identified by the Nature Conservancy as the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area more than 50,000 acres containing the highest concentrations of native grasslands in the Midwest, home to 14 rare and declining grassland bird species. This area is also part of the newly defined 500,000 acre Habitat Conservation Area that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is calling the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland & Stream Conservation Area. What an opportunity to be here in this place at this time!