Wisconsin’s prairies shine in late summer, from Lapham Peak to UW Arboretum

A trail through Curtis Prairie in summer leads to the Visitor Center

Curtis Prairie (Photo: Chelea Lewis / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Prairies aren’t just pretty to look it and nice to walk through. They’re vital to species like American kestrels, bobolinks, sandhill cranes, eastern meadowlark, federally endangered Karner blue butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

They’re also vital to us. Prairie plants like big bluestem have deep root systems that filter groundwater and store carbon — the root systems are so extensive that they’ve been likened to underground forests. Prairies also create fertile soil for farming and grazing.

Prairies used to cover 2 million acres of Wisconsin, mostly in the southern part of the state. But as more settlers cleared the fertile land for farming, Wisconsin’s grasslands became a much rarer landscape. Today there are only about 12,000 acres left — less than .1% of the original landscape, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Read the full Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Chelsea Lewis, August 19, 2021