When it opens, the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area will be part of one of the largest contiguous parcels of land open to the public in southern Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is developing a master plan for the 3,800-acre parcel of land shaved off the 7,354-acre former Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
Will people be allowed to hunt on the property? Are four-wheeling and horseback riding acceptable uses for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area? What about a shooting range?
These are the kind of questions the DNR needs to answer, said Mark Aquino, regional director for the DNR’s south central region.
“This plan will determine what types of recreational activities will be allowed at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area,” Aquino said. “It will identify what part of habitat restoration should be completed in which parts of the property, and it will identify what type of infrastructure needs to be constructed to support the recreational activities allowed on the property.”
During an open house in Baraboo a couple of weeks ago, Aquino said his department heard a wide array of suggestions that included hiking, biking, trapping and hunting. One suggestion, he said, was to allow dog trialing, a competitive sport for testing hunting dogs.
Aquino said when developing the plan, the DNR will consider all public input, as well as the Badger Reuse Plan, a 2001 document completed through a consensus process by 21 stakeholders outlining a vision for future land use at Badger.
Bill Wenzel, who sits on the Sauk County Board, said the type of recreation supported by the Badger Reuse Plan would be low-impact and inclusive. For instance, a soccer field or a sports complex wouldn’t make sense, he said.
“We envisioned recreation uses that allow multiple other uses, not exclusive,” Wenzel said.
He also said the Badger Reuse Plan emphasizes conservation, environmental cleanup and land restoration.
“It pretty much calls for a lot of restoration. This is right adjacent to Devil’s Lake State Park, the most successful state park in the state park chain and we didn’t forget that,” Wenzel said.
Aquino said the DNR has begun working with the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance to begin work on habitat restoration at Badger. The conservation alliance has also been urging the DNR to hew closely to the Badger Reuse Plan going forward.
This year the alliance has begun expanding their efforts at Badger removing invasive species and training additional volunteers for ongoing restoration.
Aquino said the DNR’s plan would contain a restoration component.
“If you look at the property pre-settlement it was most likely mainly prairie and grassland and as you head to the north it would transition to oak savannah before transitioning to the wooded land of the Baraboo Hills in Devil’s Lake State Park,” Aquino said.
He said the DNR won’t receive land from the Army until the environmental cleanup is finished and the DNR has reviewed the cleanup on a parcel-by-parcel basis.
Even so, he said some parts of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area will likely be closed to the public due to either capped-off landfills left by the Army or ongoing remediation efforts. Overall, Aquino said that would be a small portion of the land.
“We don’t foresee restrictions on the property, other than those couple of issues,” Aquino said.
Of the 3,800 acres the Army has scheduled to turn over to the DNR, 2,170 acres have been transferred. In 18 months, Aquino said, DNR officials hope to have the plan for the property completed and ready for approval by the DNR’s Natural Resources Board.
Before then, however, he said there would be additional opportunities for public input during different phases of the plan’s development. He said this is an important project because when it’s combined with the 9,000-acre Devils Lake State Park, it will be one of the department largest properties.
“If you’re looking for more of a contiguous block of land managed by the DNR in the southern half of the state, this will be one of the largest ones,” Aquino said.