Nature Calling: Dramatic landscapes highlight four seasons at Ledge View

January 21, 2014

Rob Zimmer

Appleton Post-Crescent

The colors of the prairie shimmer in the summer breeze, a sea of gold, purple, pink, orange and white.

A bluebird, dressed in stunning bright blue, perches on the umbrella-like branch of a sumac arching over the flowering meadow. A red-tailed hawk soars high overhead, circling the prairie at Ledge View Nature Center.

While many Fox Valley residents associate Ledge View Nature Center near Chilton with the cave tours offered there, the nature center features much more than the deep, dark underground hollows it is famous for.

Towering forests of oak, maple and hickory, expansive prairie plantings, spring wildflowers blooming in huge masses along the edge of the ridge, as well as a spectacular limestone quarry, are some of the other attractions you'll find at this scenic Calumet County nature center.

A towering overlook and viewing platform rises 60 feet high at the top of the ledge, providing breathtaking views of several acres of prairie plantings below, as well as for miles across the surrounding countryside.

Ledge View Nature Center also features a wonderful, educational outdoor living arboretum, with examples of many of Wisconsin's native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. The arrangement and setup of the arboretum is wonderful for those interested in identifying plants of the area. The arboretum layout allows you to compare, side-by-side, the different types of tree species found in our area.

The specimens included in the arboretum range from spring ephemeral wildflowers to deciduous trees, shrubs, prairie plants, native grasses and conifers.

Wildflowers of the ledge

A visit to Ledge View in spring should include a hike through the forests both above and below the ledge. Spring wildflowers are abundant on the leaf-covered forest floor. Large patches of trillium, hepatica and violets bloom on the north side of the ridge.

Along the rocky outcropping, native ferns and wildflowers such as columbine and wild geranium drape over the cliff edge, along with thick layers of beautiful mosses, lichens and many types of fungi.

As you stroll along the winding trail following the north face of the ledge, enjoying the beauty of thousands of wildflowers in bloom on the forest floor, the voices of the forest birds ring through the trees, enveloping you in a serene calm.

Summer brings a whole new season of color as the massive prairie plantings begin to bloom. Towering giants of the prairie, such as prairie dock, cup plant, wild sunflowers, wild quinine, as well as bee balm, aster, goldenrod and milkweed, brighten the summer prairie.

Butterflies are abundant as the bloom season heats up. Many species are found here, including nymphs, northern pearly eye, several skippers, fritillaries, viceroy, tiger swallowtail, black swallowtail, Monarch, red-spotted purple, red admiral, white admiral, snout butterfly and others.

Wild inhabitants

Wildlife is abundant at Ledge View in all seasons. Squirrels, red fox and whitetail deer are common, along with opossum, raccoon, skunk and chipmunks.

Bats are one of the most studied species found at Ledge View, using the natural caves and caverns for much of the year. Learn all about the bats of Wisconsin through several interactive exhibits inside the nature center.

Birds of prey are often seen riding thermals above the ledge, following the shore of nearby Lake Winnebago. Turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, bald eagle, kestrel and many species of owl are often seen.

Spring migration funnels scores of birds to this natural stopping point along the eastern shore of the lake, just a few miles away. Orioles, grosbeaks, bluebirds, indigo buntings, colorful woodpeckers, warblers and other birds migrate through, with many remaining all summer long to nest and raise their young.

Sandhill cranes are often heard trumpeting from the surrounding croplands.

What lies beneath

A visit to Ledge View would not be complete without a tour of the underground caverns that offer a one-of-a-kind experience to nature lovers in our area. Cave Tours must be pre-arranged with the naturalist on staff.

Several caves sprawl beneath the ground at Ledge View, offering shelter to many species of bats and breathtaking beauty to those who are brave enough to explore these stunning caverns.

More than 40 school districts bring children to Ledge View to learn about the geology of Wisconsin by getting down and dirty inside the caves and caverns here. Families can explore the caves together on weekend public tours offered during spring, summer and early fall.

While many areas inside the caves at Ledge View are tall enough to stand in, some crawling and getting dirty and wet will be required, so be sure to wear old clothes, dress warmly and bring a flashlight. Wear appropriate shoes as the floor of the caves is uneven and natural and may be slippery.

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