Dane County Parks staff and the Friends of Indian Lake County Park have worked for several years at Indian Lake County Park to restore rare oak savanna habitat that once dominated the area. Oak savanna was once one of the most common vegetation types in the Upper Midwest but today is highly endangered with only a fraction of one percent remaining. Intact oak savannas are now one of the rarest natural communities on earth. Savannas are characterized by scattered oak trees covering 10-50% of the site and an understory of prairie mixed with shade tolerant plants. Indian Lake County Park is a great example of how degraded oak savannas can be restored. Staff and volunteers have worked for many years to restore habitat at Indian Lake County Park. To date, approximately 20 acres of prairie and 6 acres of oak woodland have been restored at the park. Another 4 acres of savanna restoration is already underway.
A project is currently underway to restore another 17-acre section of this unique habitat. The project area also contains pockets of remnant prairie that are currently being choked out by invasive brush. Restoring the savanna will save these remnants from being lost and allow them to grow and flourish. The county has contracted with Valton Log and Lumber to begin removing black locust trees and other trees that are not part of the oak savanna ecosystem from this section. Contracting with a timber company allowed a much larger area of the park to be restored than by working with staff and volunteers alone. The company started removals in 2020 and will continue in 2021.
Staff and volunteers will continue to combat and suppress invasive species in the cleared area and native plant seeds will be scattered this fall and winter to help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion as the restoration project moves forward. They will continue to add native species that are part of the oak savanna habitat. Cut brush will be stacked into burn piles and will be burned over the winter. Fire is a critical element in maintaining savanna ecosystems so controlled burns will also be used to manage this area.
Park visitors will notice informational boards out at the park letting them know about the restoration work that is occurring. Some trails may need to be temporarily rerouted to provide access for equipment. Dane County Parks asks that visitors pay attention and comply with signage for their safety while at the park.
Darren Marsh, Park Director
Dane County Parks Division
5201 Fen Oak Drive
Madison, WI 53718