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Into The Wild: Carver-Roehl County Park—Rock County’s hidden gem

January 19, 2011

Carver-Roehl County Park offers a peek into the area's geologic past. Photo courtesy of Rock County Parks

In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and The Rock River Times presents this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Please visit fourriver.org.

By Joleen Stinson
Rock County Parks Community Coordinator
and Lena Verkuilen

Welty Environmental Center Director

The rolling hills and farm fields north of Clinton, Wis., disguise the hidden gem of Carver-Roehl County Park. To get to this geologic wonder, take Highway 140 north out of Clinton. After you cross the wide, glacial Turtle Creek Valley, turn right on Creek Road, then left at Carvers Rock Road. The park entrance is on your right.

Parking is permitted on the park road during most of the year, though you will have to park near the entrance in winter if the gate is closed. Bring your hiking boots, but only bring your cross country skis if you are fairly experienced and are comfortable on ungroomed trails.

The Rock County Parks Division is excited to announce the southern half of this park has recently been designated as a Wisconsin State Natural Area (SNA). SNAs protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscape, significant geological formations and archaeological sites. This designation was made cooperatively with Rock County and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The land management is also a cooperative venture. This park was chosen as a SNA because of its outstanding southern dry-mesic forest and moist cliffs. A variety of native species can be found in the forest, and along the edges of Spring Brook Creek, which runs from north to south through the park, just north of its confluence with Turtle Creek. In addition, the site contains a historical grave of two of the county’s oldest settlers, members of the William C. Chase family. The graves date from 1843 and 1845.

Carver-Roehl County Park offers a peek into the area’s geologic past. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the region lay under a shallow, inland sea. Corals, mollusks, trilobites and other ocean life lived here in a tropical climate near the equator. In death, their bodies sank to the ocean floor, and in time were covered with other remains and sediments, becoming fossilized and turning into limestone. Over time, the continents have shifted, climates have changed, and more sediments covered the limestone.

What happened between 500 million years ago and 10,000 years ago is a mystery. Like a book with the middle pages torn out, we are left with only the beginning and end of the story, thanks to the glaciers. These thick ice sheets that once covered the area carved the landscape and river valleys as they tore away the missing sedimentary pages. The cycles of growing and melting scoured and carried away the sediments, revealing the limestone bluffs of Carver-Roehl County Park.

Winter is an ideal time to see the bare rock faces. Be sure to stay on the trails when hiking or cross country skiing, as there are many sharp drops throughout this 53-acre park.

Come back throughout the year for many biological discoveries of unique flora and fauna. The ground layer is diverse and very representative of this native habitat type in southern Wisconsin. Many early spring wildflowers, including patches of bloodroot, wild leek, wild geranium, yellow and blue violets, Solomon’s seal, wild ginger and others pepper the forest floor, especially in the southern half of the park. In the higher elevations and younger forests, the flora includes many native plants typical of a savanna, like hepatica, Robin’s plantain, wood betony, smooth rock cress, shooting star, woodland phlox and rattlesnake-root. The limestone cliffs support many moist cliff species including bulblet fern, purple cliff, brake and liverworts.

The hardwood forest is dominated by sugar maple, red oak and basswood. A pine plantation is in the southeast corner of the park, which will slowly be thinned and restored as part of the State Natural Area management plan. This area is essentially barren of ground vegetation because southern Wisconsin flora is not adapted to pines.

The native flora deteriorates moving north through the park, with the community becoming increasingly overrun by buckthorn and garlic mustard, both invasive species. A garlic mustard eradication program is starting to achieve a noticeable reduction. For the past 10 years, parks staff and volunteers have hand-pulled and sprayed garlic mustard with herbicide.

The Friends of Carver-Roehl Park are dedicated to the safety and preservation of the natural beauty of this park for the use of the community. They raised funds for the park’s pavilion, swing set, benches and trash cans, and are currently partnering with Rock County Parks to purchase more playground equipment, which will be installed this summer. The Friends Group will host an Easter Egg Hunt April 17. The hunt begins promptly at 1 p.m. They also host a Fall Festival, which will be held Oct. 2, beginning at 11 a.m. Admittance to these events is free. In addition, the group has workdays scheduled throughout the summer. If you are interested in learning more about the volunteer group, please contact Rock County Parks, who will direct you to their current president.

The park has a rentable shelter, which is a popular place for family reunions and weddings. For more information, please contact Rock County Parks by phone at (608) 757-5450, on the web at co.rock.wi.us or e-mail the community coordinator at stinson@co.rock.wi.us.

For information about upcoming environmental education programs in the stateline region, contact the Welty Environmental Center by phone at (608) 361-1377, on the web at weltycenter.org, e-mail at info@weltycenter.org, or check us out on Facebook.

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