Monarch Butterfly on Yellow flower

Back to Nature: Prairie Garden and Oak Savannah Restoration Project

Written by Stalac-Tate

The small town Blue Mounds gets its name from the hills that surround it.   As you drive to Cave of the Mounds look for the hills that our logo represents.  These two hills are at such an elevation that the vegetation on them looks blue from a distance.  On a clear day, the Blue Mounds can be seen from the top of the West Bluff at Devil’s Lake in Baraboo.  On HWY 18-151 a person can see the Mounds up to 15 miles away.   Cave of the Mounds is tucked into the East Mound’s south slope of the Blue Mounds. 

The first thing you will notice upon arriving in the Blue Mounds area is that we have a lot of large hills.  Blue Mounds is within the borders of the driftless area of Southwestern Wisconsin.  It appears that the glacial events of the ice age missed this part of the state, therefore large hills and caves are abundant.  All of the highway road cuts will exhibit the limestone found just a few feet below the soil.  

East Mound and West Mound of Blue Mounds

The vegetation here, formerly prairie and oak savanna, today consists of grassy fields and wooded lots.  Farming never really took off in this area because the soil on the Mounds is very thin and poor.  Projects are underway to re-establish the native landscape by state and private interest groups.  Cave of the Mounds began a prairie restoration project on a small portion of land below the barn in 1999.  We plan to continue this project, in sections, until the land is restored.

Our mission at Cave of the Mounds National Landmark is to provide our visitors with an enhanced appreciation and understanding of our natural environment while protecting and conserving that resource both above and below ground.  Our landscaping reflects those values. We combine perennial gardening with native plant restoration to create a beautiful, peaceful, and interesting landscape.

Photo of a Path through Garden with a Barn in the background

When you arrive, the chert boulders you see in the terraces around the Visitor Center were excavated during surface preparations prior to the construction of the Visitor Center.  Chert is a microcrystalline silicon dioxide and is found only in limestone or dolomite formations.  The color of chert varies according to other minerals within or around it.  In the past, the Indigenous People used chert, sometimes called flint, as their main resource for making stone tools. 

People used chert, sometimes called flint, as their main resource for making stone tools. 

The base structure of our rock gardens is made up of chert boulders. These boulders all come from the site and were removed from the ground where our Visitor Center and Gift shop now stand. These rocks are unique to the Blue Mounds area. They once formed the caprock on both the West and East Mound. Chert is very hard and contains many small cavities which are often filled with crystals. This gives the chert its beautiful, glistening appearance – especially when the sunlight strikes its surface.

Our rock gardens are filled with perennials of all types including many varieties of Sedum, Phlox, Chrysanthemum, Ajuga, Viola, Heuchera, Veronica, Salvia, and Armeria just to name a few. We also have thousands of bulbs including Iris, Daffodil, Tulip, and Allium. Interspersed in the perennials are native prairie and savanna plants including Coreopsis, Echinacea, Bluestem, Aster, Baptisia, and Goldenrod. These native plant elements not only help to tie together our cultivated gardens with our restoration areas, but they also create a varied and beautiful landscape blooming with color throughout the growing season.

Illustrated map of the grounds including trails

We currently have several acres that we are actively managing in our Prairie and Savanna Restoration project. This is an attempt to restore plants to our area that once thrived throughout Southwest Wisconsin prior to settlement. These biomes were characterized by grasses and flowering plants extending for vast areas among clusters of oak trees. We continue to work toward removing invasive exotic species and trees while cultivating native species of grasses and forbs in our efforts to restore the native biodiversity and healthy ecosystem that once existed here.

In 2004, Cave of the Mounds – in partnership with the Groundswell Conservancy -received a grant from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund toward the purchase of 27 acres of land directly adjacent to Cave of the Mounds.  The resulting conservation easement guarantees that the land will be protected in perpetuity. We have developed a trail system through this land which has increased our landscape offerings and helped us bring the wonderful world of Cave of the Mounds, both above and below ground – to all of our visitors. 

Cave of the Mounds is located in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Wisconsin.  The rolling hills and limestone bedrock offer rare experiences for those who are eager to explore.  The combination of geological processes, interesting land features, and the high elevation creates an irreplaceable setting unique to Cave of the Mounds.

Discover hidden treasures, discover fun at Cave of the Mounds!