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Crex Meadows Wildlife Area

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is a 30,000-acre property of wetlands, brush prairies and forests scattered across a gently rolling landscape. It is located in western Burnett County. Find it from Highway 70 in Grantsburg. Directional signs will guide you through Grantsburg to the Crex Meadows Wildlife Education and Visitor Center, which is located on County Road D. The center contains a sales area, information center, library, auditorium, exhibits and classrooms.

Crex Meadows is open year-round, with something to do and see during every season. Crex receives more than 100,000 visitors each year. Most of the visitors come to view wildlife. The popularity of Crex is attributed to its large size, spectacular vistas and great diversity of plants and wildlife. A system of well maintained roads, observation areas and a rest area provide excellent access and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Some of the visitors come to hunt or trap. With the exception of the 2,400-acre refuge, the entire area is open to hunting and trapping. Crex provides abundant hunting opportunities for deer, bear, waterfowl and a variety of small game. Trappers have opportunities for nearly every furbearer found in Wisconsin.



Crex Meadows is part of the Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens. The barrens extends from northern Polk County to southern Bayfield County and covers 1,500 square miles. This large, sandy plain was left when the glacier retreated about 13,000 years ago. The southern portion of the barrens, where Crex is located, contains huge marshes. These marshes are leftovers from when the glacier carved out an ancient lake called Glacial Lake Grantsburg.

When Euro-Americans first arrived, the sandy soil produced scattered red and jack pines, brush and a variety of prairie grasses and flowers. Naturally occurring wildfires maintained these plant communities. Since wildfires were no longer common after settlement, the landscape grew into an oak-jack pine forest. Beginning in the mid-1800s, settlers tried to farm the sandy soil, but most soon gave up. The lack of wildfires and clearing of the land for farming resulted in the near elimination of brush prairie. Large-scale drainage of wetlands in the 1890s, caused a decline in the number of nesting and migrant waterfowl and other wetland animals.

In 1912, the Crex Carpet Co. purchased 23,000 acres of what is now Crex Meadows. The carpet company was an eastern corporation that produced grass rugs. Three carpet "camps" were located in the area. The grass rug industry continued successfully until the development of linoleum for floor covering. The Crex Carpet Co. went bankrupt in 1933, but the name Crex remained.

During the Depression and drought years of the 1930s, further drainage and agricultural attempts failed. By 1940, nearly two-thirds of the land in the area was tax delinquent. In 1946, the state purchased 12,000 acres of this tax delinquent land to start the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.

Management objective

Two state natural areas are located within Crex Meadows — Crex Sand Prairie and Reed Lake Meadow. Crex is a critical Important Bird Area and is one of the few sites in Wisconsin that provides landscape-level management opportunities for pine-oak barrens, northern sedge meadows and marshes, and emergent marsh/wild rice habitats. It is a Land Legacy Place and a Conservation Opportunity Area [PDF] for pine-oak barrens of global significance and large sedge meadows, fens and prairies of upper Midwest/regional significance in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is managed to provide opportunities for public hunting, trapping, fishing and other outdoor recreation while protecting the qualities of the unique native communities and associated species found on the property. It is intensively managed using a wide variety of wildlife management practices. Wetland and prairie restoration and maintenance practices are employed to a greater degree here than at any other wildlife area in Wisconsin. To date, 22 miles of dike have been constructed to create 29 flowages that flood 6,000 acres. Water levels are managed with 34 water control structures, 8 miles of water transfer ditches and a diversion pump. Clearing and prescribed burning were used to restore 7,000 acres of brush prairie. Approximately, 3,500 acres of brush prairie and sedge marsh are burned annually for maintenance purposes. Firebreak construction, mowing and herbicide application are also employed to restore and maintain brush prairie habitat.

Wetland management is employed primarily to increase waterfowl production. Management practices include water level manipulation, construction and maintenance of waterfowl nesting islands, establishment of dense nesting cover, and construction of breeding pair ponds.

A variety of surveys are conducted to monitor wildlife populations and harvest levels, evaluate management practices and determine levels of public use. Other management practices include planting agricultural crops for migrating and, to a lesser extent, resident wildlife, waterfowl banding (using swim-in and cannon netting), and construction of nesting structures for waterfowl, eagles, osprey, herons and cormorants.


The Crex Meadows Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities:

  • Auto travel;
  • Biking;
  • Birding;
  • Camping Sept. 1 - Dec. 1;
  • Canoeing;
  • Cross-country skiing (no designated trail);
  • Hiking;
  • Hunting (except in the 2,400-acre refuge);
  • Snowmobile trail;
  • Trapping;
  • Wild edibles/gathering; and
  • Wildlife viewing.
Friends Group

The Friends of Crex was established in 1984 as a support group for the wildlife education program conducted at Crex Meadows. It is a private, nonprofit corporation that provides volunteer and financial assistance needed to expand the wildlife education program. For more information, visit Friends of Crex Inc. [exit DNR].


Download a map of this property. Map A[PDF] or Map B [PDF].

If you are interested in exploring this property further, you can access an interactive map.

Useful links
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