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Lakeshore Nature Preserve

Cultural and Natural History of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve

See also Complete history index

Native Americans and the Preserve

For more than 12,000 years, Native peoples have lived on the land that is today the UW-Madison campus. Evidence of this long human occupation is inscribed all across the campus landscape. Earthen burial mounds, including unique effigy forms constructed over 1000 years ago, can be visited in several parts of the Preserve. Learn about the more than 40 archaeological sites across campus.

DA119 Willow Drive mound group

Original Land Survey, 1834

In 1834, the federal government sponsored a survey of the lands that fourteen years later would become the state of Wisconsin . The maps and field notes gathered by the original surveyors provide us with a fascinating snapshot of how the landscape appeared just prior to European-American settlement. Land managers can now use these historical data to help guide their ecological restoration efforts. This document collection includes facsimiles of the original field notebooks and sketches prepared by the 1834 surveying teams.

You can also see the Original Survey on the interactive map
(go to NATURAL FEATURES > 1834 Witness Trees)

Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association

The Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA) was responsible for building and maintaining an extensive network of recreational carriage roads in Madison beginning in the early 1890s. In fact, their first project was to erect a bridge over Willow Creek and to construct a “ Bay Road ” along the shore of Lake Mendota. This inaugural route exists today—but we now call it the Lakeshore Path. Explore the remnants of these pleasure drives all through the Preserve.


Historic Aerial Photos 1927-1999

By closely examining this series of aerial photographs of the western portion of the Preserve, we can begin to understand how the landscape has evolved over the past 80 years. Choose a location on one of the early images and then find the same place on a subsequent image. Look closely and you will notice open fields gradually close in as trees take over the site. Try to find the orderly rows of fruit trees in the orchards. Can you find the open-grown oak trees that today mark the Big Oak trail at Frautschi Point?

Thanks to Dr. Sam Batzli, UW-Madison Environmental Remote Sensing Center , for rectifying these historic aerial photographs of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, so that they can be easily viewed and interpreted.

Discover how to use historic aerial sequences on the interactive map. Learn more



The Lakeshore Path

The Lakeshore Path connects the far reaches of the Preserve—from Muir Woods through Picnic Point all the way Eagle Heights Woods. The path is accessible by foot and, along designated sections, by bicycle. Learn how this network of former work roads, bridal paths, and pleasure drives evolved to form today's Lakeshore Path.

the Lakeshore Path

History of giving to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve

Much of what you see and experience when you visit the Lakeshore Nature Preserve today is the product of extraordinary gifts by generous UW-Madison alumni and other far-sighted donors who saw this place as a way to leave a legacy that would benefit future generations for all time to come. Whether you visit Frautschi Point, or enjoy watching waterfowl in the Class of 1918 Marsh, or even surf the pages of this website…in all cases, you are indebted to people who expressed their love of the Preserve by seeking to enhance your experience of it. Please read about these remarkable philanthropists…and think about whether you too might wish to make a contribution that will help us take better care of this wonderful place.

the Blitzer family in Preserve giving

Muir Knoll

Muir Knoll, a small knob of land on the northern edge of Bascom Hill, is a lovely spot to enjoy a view of Lake Mendota or to access nearby Muir Woods or the Lakeshore Path. The site is named for John Muir, the indefatigable conservationist and one-time student at UW-Madison. The knoll has been a popular gathering spot since the early years of the university. For many years a ski jump was located on top of the knoll. With any luck, the brave jumpers would land on the slope just below the knoll and glide out onto the frozen lake.

Muir Knoll

Observatory Hill

Observatory Hill offers the visitor dramatic views of Lake Mendota and Picnic Point. This part of the Preserve was once part of the university's Experimental Farm—the lower portion of the north-facing slope was formerly an orchard and a pasture for the College of Agriculture's sheep flock. The hill's steep descent was ideal for building a concrete toboggan slide in 1933. Two extant effigy mounds—including an unusual two-tailed water spirit form—can be found along the ridge top.

Picnic Point

This most famous of all destinations in the Preserve was once a working farm beginning in the early 1860s. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Edward Young family lived here in a large farmhouse until it burned down in 1935. A few clues remain from this earlier era. Next time you visit, try to find the old brick walkway that once led up to the Youngs' house, or look for the few remaining apple trees from the old orchard.

the Narrows at Picnic Point

Class of 1918 Marsh

For their golden jubilee gift to the university, graduates of the Class of 1918 contributed funds to restore this marsh opposite the entrance to Picnic Point. Prior to the restoration, this area was part of a vast marsh west of University Bay. Then, in the early 1900s, the College of Agriculture conducted a research project here to demonstrate engineering techniques to convert wetlands to farm fields. The Class of 1918 Marsh has now restored the wetland that was destroyed by those same techniques.

laying tile in marsh

Frautschi Point

With the acquisition of Frautschi Point in the late 1980s, the university was able to complete the critical missing link in its ownership of the land between the Memorial Union and Eagle Heights Woods. The acquisition of Frautschi Point in 1988 finally linked together the more than four miles of continuous shoreline that we know today as the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Learn more about the Frautschi family's extraordinary gift, and also about earlier owners of this property who transformed it into a summer retreat.

Frautschi Point

Tent Colony Woods

Each summer from 1912 to 1962, students and their families erected an ephemeral community in the woods along the shoreline west of Frautschi Point. They lived in simple canvas and tar paper tents, and gathered their drinking water from a single hand-pumped well. Read about this unique experiment in student housing and then visit this site to see if you can find remnants of this fascinating "ghost town."

Tent Colony Woods

Wally Bauman Woods

This small parcel of wooded shoreline on the west end of the Preserve was purchased for the university in the early 1980s. The acquisition of this property was the result of a contentious land-use battle between a private developer, intent on building condominiums, and environmentalists who wanted to preserve one of the last undeveloped stretches Lake Mendota shoreline. Learn more about this controversy and the innovative land conservation easement that now permanently protects this land for public enjoyment.

Wally Bauman Woods in February

Eagle Heights Woods

Eagle Heights Woods, perched on a high bluff overlooking Lake Mendota , anchors the far west end of the Preserve. It is the highest point in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve—indeed, the highest point on the southern shore of the lake. Here you will find Indian burial mounds and the remnants of a network of carriage roads dating from the late 1800s. Discover how the university first acquired this property then traded it away-- and then finally received it back as the result of a generous donation from the Brittingham Trust.

Eagle Heights Woods


In the Madison of 50,000 years ago, the Yahara River flowed sweetly at the bottom of a steep river valley perhaps as much as 600 feet deep. Resilient sandstone layers formed extensive ledges and spring fed streams issued from limestone caves to cascade to the river far below. Incredibly, a natural event of unimaginable scale literally wiped this entire ecosystem from the face of the Earth—glaciers.

Geology and glacial history of the Preserve



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