|Home > Visit the Preserve > Big Woods|
Big Woods is a parcel of old woods located located between the University Houses and the Eagle Heights Apartment buildings. Because it has been infrequently visited, except by children from the apartment complexes and occasional others, it has remained reasonably undisturbed. Its vegetation is more biologically diverse than most other woodlands in the Preserve.
The area was recently included within the newly defined boundaries of the Preserve in conjunction with the 2005 Campus Master Plan. Management plans and opportunities for visitor access are still being developed. Because there are as yet no managed trails currently available for exploring Big Woods, visitors are discouraged from entering it lest they damage fragile and rare native plants.
Throughout the Preserve we have located many important archaeological sites demonstrating that Indians have lived in this area for thousands of years. The land that we today call Big Woods was unquestionably visited and used by native peoples long before European-American settlement, but the site has not to date been included in any systematic archaeological survey.
The land immediately to the east of Big Woods (near the corner of Lake Mendota Drive and University Bay Drive) has yielded artifacts from several ancient cultures-including material from the Paleo-Indian culture some 12,000 ago. We speculate that given the relatively steep slopes of Big Woods, it is less likely that archaeological surveys would yield artifacts here.
For more information, browse the webpage Native American presence in the Preserve.
The second European-American to settle in the University Bay area, Anna Jansen, was reported to have lived in a dirt-floored log cabin near the corner of present-day Haight Road and University Bay Drive. Plat maps from the mid-1800s placed the cabin somewhere near the electrical substation currently at this location. We know little else about this woman or the fate of her cabin.
The Olin property
The Biological Community of Big Woods
[This section was authored by Glenda Denniston, based on her article "The Uncertain Future of Big Woods," FCNA News, 4:2 (Spring 2005), p.4.]
Big Woods, including an important narrow strip of wooded land extending to Lake Mendota Drive, was included within the newly defined boundaries of the Preserve in conjunction with the 2005 Campus Master Plan. This assures its protection as an important part of a "woodland corridor," essential for the protection of migrating neotropical birds and for the large raptors that nest in the Preserve. The extension strip connects to Bill's Woods and to the woodlands of Frautschi Point via the wooded canopy of Lake Mendota Drive. This woodland corridor also connects Big Woods, via the large trees and shrubs in the University apartment communities and then Eagle Heights Woods, with the largely wooded Village of Shorewood Hills.
Large old white oak, red oak, sugar maple, basswood, black cherry, hackberry, and other trees characteristic of the southern Wisconsin forest form the canopy of Big Woods. Although invasive species are present, except for garlic mustard and some large Norway maples, these are largely confined to the edges. Nannyberry viburnum, pagoda dogwood, and red elder are common in the understory. The soil is rich in humus, attesting to the age of the woodland. Many fallen trees and branches, rotting on the forest floor, provide habitat for animals along with a rich variety of mosses, fungi, and lichens.
Especially in the southeastern part of Big Woods, there is an outstanding abundance of woodland wildflowers, strikingly prominent in the spring. Before the canopy is fully leafed, thousands of wild ginger, Dutchman's breeches, Solomon's plume, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wood geranium, prairie trillium, and other native species carpet extensive areas of the woodland floor. There are several large patches of bent trillium as well (shown at right). The most unusual wildflower species is great waterleaf (shown above), which is listed by the University of Wisconsin Madison Herbarium as a "Species of Special Concern" in Wisconsin.
Visitors should remember that these are all rare protected plants that must not be picked; furthermore, the absence of trails in Big Woods makes it difficult to visit without trampling and endangering these delicate species, so visitors are discouraged from entering Big Woods except with knowledgeable guides.
Raptors—including great horned and screech owls and Cooper's and red-tailed hawks—hunt and sometimes nest in Big Woods. Many other birds use this woodland as a haven for their fledglings because of the lack of human disturbance. Red foxes, coyotes, and occasionally deer use the woodland, and raccoons, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks and many smaller mammals reside here as well.
At left, Ferns, Trout Lily, and Moss in Big Woods (Photo by Glenda Denniston)
The 2006 Lakeshore Nature Preserve Master Plan envisions a variety of cultural and ecological enhancements that will improve visitor experiences and protect resources.
The master plan has identified Big Woods as a "natural area management zone"—a designation that focuses activities on restoration of naturalized landscapes to desirable biological communities. Big Woods will be managed to support both a mesic and a dry mesic forest community.
In the near-term, Preserve managers will monitor Big Woods for invasive plant infestations and take appropriate action to remove them.
Until such time as a stable trail network can be established for Big Woods, visitors are asked to remain on the sidewalk that runs through this parcel. The steep slopes and fragile plant communities that characterize this part of the Preserve need to be treated very carefully. Unless you are in the company of an experienced guide, it is best to view Big Woods either from the paved sidewalk that runs through the area, or from its margins, gazing into the woods without entering it.
Big Woods is hemmed in on all sides by the Eagle Heights Apartment buildings. Currently there are no maintained walking trails in this area. Preserve staff are developing plans for a trail system that will permit access to this parcel—while also protecting the delicate understory plant community.
Currently a sidewalk runs through the center of the parcel. The north end of the sidewalk can be located along the west side of apartment building #203. The southern end of the sidewalk can be accessed near the western side of apartment building #107.