Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Wisconsin
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Camp Wisconsin: I’m talking with Kim today. She’s the Natural Resources Educator at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Wisconsin. Kim, why don’t you get us started by giving us a little bit of history and background about the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area?
Kim: Sure. Well, Crex Meadows is a 30,000-acre wildlife area in Northwestern Wisconsin. The land had been settled by Europeans back in the 1800s and they attempted farming on it. They dried growing cranberries and none of that was very successful. In the early 1900s, a company called The Crex Carpet Company bought some of the land and they actually were harvesting sedge grass out of the meadows, which they used to make rugs and some other pieces of furniture, and that lasted for about 20 years or so. And then, in 1946, the State took over the land and returned it to its original habitat, which is basically sedge meadow and brush prairie.
Since then we’ve constructed lots of dikes, which are mostly roads that people can drive through the wildlife area. We have lots of animals here that live here, at least in the summertime for sure. Some live hear year round.
Camp Wisconsin: Okay.
Camp Wisconsin: Now, do you have any of those old Crex items or any of the rugs there?
Kim: Yeah, we actually have a rug on display here in our Visitor Center. It’s on loan from our Historical Society here in Grantsburg. It’s really neat looking.
Camp Wisconsin: Really cool, and so they made it go over for 20 years, huh? And then probably just demand or whatever happened.
Kim: Well, they found cheaper ways to do it I think. I think most of these kinds of rugs are made in Taiwan now.
Camp Wisconsin: Right. Right.
Kim: And the Philippines.
Camp Wisconsin: A little bit cost intensive I suppose to be actually in the land, harvesting sedge grass.
Kim: Yeah. Actually they used horses and they worse these wooden shoes on their feet called bog shoes, and the horses would actually pull a wagon-type thing through the slough and they’d harvest the grass and throw it on the wagon. And it required a lot of workers.
Camp Wisconsin: That sounds like hard work too.
Camp Wisconsin: Wow. So, you have camping there.
Kim: Yeah, we do have camping here. The camping is just in the fall from September 1st through the end of year, although right now I don’t know anybody who would want to came out there. But in the fall there are a lot of really neat things to see here. We have probably upwards of 15 thousand sandhill cranes that come to this area of Wisconsin in the fall to gather and feed, and get ready. They call it staging to head south for the winter. And so, when you’re camping in the wildlife area, you’ll see and hear the cranes coming in, in the evening, and you’ll hear them waking up in the morning and leaving. And so, that’s a really big draw for people here.
Camp Wisconsin: Very neat. Now, why the short camping season in the fall? Is it because it’s the most dry time of the year when you actually could camp?
Kim: Well, quite honestly, you wouldn’t want to camp here in July. The deer flies are really bad.
Camp Wisconsin: They’re just out of control, I bet, with all the water.
Kim: Yeah. The other thing is that it’s a staffing thing. Keeping a campground open throughout the year takes people, and we have a very small staff of technicians here.
Camp Wisconsin: Sure. Now, what are the most popular activities there? I suppose a lot of hiking must be one of them.
Kim: There is hiking, yeah. We have some hiking trails that are throughout the wildlife area. Probably the biggest draw is bird watching. We have 16 miles or so of gravel roads throughout the wildlife area. It’s really accessible. People come here from all over the place. We’re known as a birding hotspot in North America. So, yeah, we have the 270 species of birds here on our list.
Camp Wisconsin: And 60 miles of navigable road is pretty impressive.
Camp Wisconsin: I mean you can easily spend a whole day putzing around out there I’m sure.
Kim: Right. Right.
Camp Wisconsin: Very cool.
Kim: Yeah, a day. You can spend the whole weekend and not see anything.
Camp Wisconsin: Oh, absolutely. Two more questions for you, Kim. If you were going to spend just one hour at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Wisconsin, how would you spend your time there?
Kim: Well, an hour is not enough time, but what I would do is I would probably drive on the real quick route through. Go along Phantom Lake Road and look to see what’s out on the lake. It’s probably the best spot to do a real quick drive through.
Camp Wisconsin: Sure. What else do you have for wildlife out there in addition to birds that you guys see commonly in the Park?
Kim: Well, people see bear. Black bear.
Camp Wisconsin: Okay.
Kim: Lots of whitetail deer. There is everything from little 13-line ground squirrels all the way up to timber wolves, and that kind of thing too. So, foxes.
Camp Wisconsin: Yeah. Have you seen moose out there at all ever?
Kim: Not normally. For a few years in a row we had one moose that would show up in the fall.
Camp Wisconsin: Oh, okay.
Kim: And if people would see him, just around the Grantsburg area and then he’d disappear. So, we didn’t see him the past year at all.
Camp Wisconsin: And last question for you: if you were going to spend just one night at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, which specific campsite would you choose and why?
Kim: Oh, gosh. Well, probably – the campground is our rest area. It’s on the north end of the wildlife area. I’d probably pick a site that’s right near the road. You can look across and see Lake and you’ll see all kinds of ducks and geese and swans and things like that there. And just sitting there in the evening and watching and listening to the wildlife is fantastic.
Camp Wisconsin: It sounds fantastic and it just sounds like a never-ending exploration for a weekend to stay there.
Kim: Yeah, it is.
Camp Wisconsin: Well, thank you so much, Kim, for taking some time out of your day to chat with us.
Kim: You’re welcome.
Camp Wisconsin: And tell us a little more about Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.
Kim: Sure, you’re welcome.