This past week, I spent a couple of days back home for the first time since spring break in March. I always look forward to going back home spending time with my family, pets (we have a dog and two cats) and walking around the yard and seeing all of the new flowers that have popped up since I left.
Before returning to Lawrence, my mom and I decided to end the time together by checking out Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha. Heckrodt, although not as large as other nature preserves in the area, has a plethora of wildlife and beautiful wetlands to see. It’s a great place to get some exercise or snap some photos of the abundant wildlife.
The thing that I love the most about places like Heckrodt, besides their beauty, is the dedication to conservation. When we first arrived, I immediately noticed that there was a butterfly garden right by the parking lot, complete with plenty of milkweed and nectar plants. I was impressed to see a couple of monarchs during our visit, which was especially cool considering the huge decline in their population as of late.
On the whole, the variety of wildlife was so impressive that I felt like I had been transported into a scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The moment we started walking towards the nature center, before even entering the reserve, we heard a strange warbling sound and looked over into a bush to see a turkey hen resting. Seconds later, I was caught off guard when I saw something rustling around in the leaves and watched in surprise as a sizable garden snake slithered away.
We decided to check out the Nature Center before going out on the trail. Inside were lots of taxidermy birds and animals surrounding the “Living Waters” exhibit featuring multiple aquariums and tanks with live local creatures.
Some of the animals included live turtles, snakes, a toad, a frog, monarch caterpillars (and one in a chrysalis), a crayfish and even some fish representing the ones found in Lake Winnebago.
There was plenty information about the animals and the wetland environment in general as well as an exhibit on Native American Indians and native hunting, foods and medicine and life in wigwams.
I found out that wetlands actually have a bit of a troubling history in Wisconsin. HALF of the original wetlands of Wisconsin have been either filled in or drained since 1848. I also learned that Wisconsin wetlands are used by 75 percent of wildlife inhabit wetlands during a certain stage in their cycle of life and that more than half of animals use wetlands to take care of their young or get away from harsh weather. And it shows – we saw a lot of wildlife taking advantage of the wetland habitat out on the trails.
We decided to walk the red trail to the prairie meadow near Lopas Pond to start, then wandered around for a bit in the forested wetland area. All of the trails are 1/2 mile loops except for one, which is a mile, so they are totally manageable. There are signs as well as arrows on the boardwalk, so it is pretty easy to find your way around
As we were making our way out to the prairie, we saw lots of birds and squirrels eating at the various bird feeders behind the nature center. Throughout the reserve, there were lots of resources for local wildlife like mason bee houses and brush and rock piles for animals to hide in. It was great to see that wildlife not only have the reserve as a safe place to live but are also provided with special resources like this so that they can really flourish.
The prairie itself was impressively large and had lots of milkweed and plants to attract monarch butterflies. I was also excited to see a “bee box” designed to attract bees set up by the Appleton Pollinator Project (BYO-BEEZ), which my friend Hailey is working on this summer with two other Lawrence students.
While walking around, my mom and I saw lots of bees and several monarch butterflies fluttering around. At one point, we saw another turkey hen, this time walking with her chicks by the edge of the prairie. We got pretty close, although we made sure to give them their space, and got to watch as they sunned themselves and pecked around for a little while.
The wetland itself was beautifully verdant, everything covered in vibrant green, even the water, which was full of duckweed for the ducks to float around in. There is a boardwalk through the wetland area, so everything was very easily accessible. There was lots of plant life to see and, although the reserve is right next to roads with cars going by, it felt completely isolated. Clearly, the animals agreed, because there were so many of them around. It was truly a great example of how natural spaces are much closer than one might think if you are willing to go out and find them. There is a lot to see and I will definitely be returning to explore more of the reserve. Although the Nature Center has more limited hours during the week, the trails are open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, and I highly recommend taking some time to check out the different habitats.
What are some of your favorite places to go on walks? Let me know in the comments!