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Nichols Creek Wildlife Area

Nichols Creek Wildlife Area

Nichols Creek Wildlife Area is a 612-acre property located in the southwest portion of Sheboygan County about 4 miles southwest of Plymouth and just northwest of the Village of Cascade. The main access is a parking area located along county Highway N about 2 miles west of County Highway E.

The property includes several coldwater seeps and spring runs that combine to form Nichols Creek. The creek then forms the North Branch of the Milwaukee River before flowing off of the property at the southeast corner. Nichols Creek is a class 1 trout stream where anglers can expect to find naturally producing brook and brown trout. Lowland woodlands of northern white cedar, black ash, tamarack and yellow birch and shrub-carr of speckled alder and red-osier dogwood parallel the springs and creek as it meanders through the property.

Marsh marigold and skunk cabbage are two of the most prevalent spring ephemerals present in the under story. Rolling uplands with restored prairies, cool-season grasses and northern hardwoods of maple, basswood and ash are located in the southern, western and northern portions of the property. This variety of habitat supports many wildlife species throughout the year. Common species, such as, white-tailed deer, turkey, woodcock, cottontail rabbit, gray squirrel and ring-necked pheasant provide hunting opportunities. Sandhill crane, blue-winged warbler, field sparrow, bobolink, northern harrier and others offer bird watching opportunities.

Management

Property history

Past uses were timber harvest and farming. Interest in state acquisition of the Nichols Creek Wildlife Area first arose in 1946 when a choice parcel of land and stream were in danger of being purchased by a group of sportsmen to be used as a private hunting and fishing area. Various conservation organizations in Sheboygan County joined forces to raise money for the purchase of this area to ensure public access to the stream. The Sheboygan County Conservation Association first acquired 40 acres from the County Pension Board. That land was then purchased by the Wisconsin Conservation Commission after it approved the project as a state wildlife area in 1946. Several small purchases of land were subsequently made and then a major acquisition of about 200 acres was made in September 1959.

Management Objective

The variety of habitat on the property provides a range of management opportunities. The grasslands containing restored prairies and cool-season grass fields are managed to provide upland nesting and brood cover for grassland nesting birds. The high quality lowland forest along the spring seeps and streams are left undisturbed to provide a natural ecosystem. Upland forests and shrubs provide high quality forest habitat for woodland wildlife species. These management schemes offer places for hunters of upland game, as well as other nature based recreational opportunities.

Wildlife management of the property includes prescribed burning to slow brush encroachment in the restored prairies and cool-season grass fields. This provides upland nesting and brood cover for a variety of grassland nesting birds, as well as grasslands to hunt pheasants. Fish management activities include trout habitat maintenance and improvement, along with protecting the high-quality water of the streams. Trout stream habitat maintenance takes the form of brush control, exotic species control and repair of in-stream brush bundles and wing dams. A sharecrop program that manages 40 acres of cropland helps to provide nesting and brood cover for grassland birds, as well as maintaining openings and offering a diversity of hunting cover. Pheasant stocking prior to and during the fall hunting season enhances hunting opportunities, and a 2 p.m. closure rule helps while actual stocking takes place.

For more information on master planning for this and other wildlife areas around the state, visit the property planning page.

Recreation

The Nichols Creek Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities:

  • Birding (migrating warblers invade the lowland wooded areas adjacent to the flowing waters of the spring runs and streams during springtime, with the uplands of prairie and crop fields in the central and northern portions of the property provide nesting areas for bobolinks and other grassland birds, plus winter forage grounds for an occasional rough-legged hawk or short-eared owl);
  • Cross-country skiing (no designated trail);
  • Fishing;
  • Hiking (no designated trail);
  • Hunting (especially noted for deer, turkey, waterfowl, ring-necked pheasant [2 p.m. closure rules apply], rabbit, squirrel, ruffed grouse, woodcock, mourning dove, fox, coyote and raccoon;
  • Snowmobiling (on the marked county-wide trail system that passes along the eastern edge of the property on Cedar Road, with maps available on the Northern Kettle Moraine Snowmobile Association website [exit DNR], and the road is closed to other vehicles during winter);
  • Trapping;
  • Wild edibles/gathering; and
  • Wildlife viewing.
Unique considerations

Coldwater springs and seeps originate on the property and feed Nichols Creek to form the headwaters of the North Branch of the Milwaukee River. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association [exit DNR] has designated the complex of coniferous swamps, sedge meadows, seeps, spring runs and the waters of Nichols Creek and the North Branch of the Milwaukee River as a Wetland Gem. It is 100 such "gems" in the state that are high quality habitats that represent the wetland riches — marshes, swamps, bogs, fens and more — that historically made up nearly a quarter of Wisconsin's landscape. This portion of the North Branch has also been recognized by the state as an Outstanding Resource Water. Waters designated as such are surface waters that provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality and are not significantly impacted by human activities.

Nichols Creek Wildlife Area is located within the middle to north Kettle Moraine Conservation Opportunity Area (COA) [PDF] of Wisconsin's Wildlife Action Plan. In this plan, the area is noted as having continental-wide ecological significance because of its complexes of uplands, wetlands and rivers, which include northern wet forest, southern mesic forest, southern sedge meadow and submergent aquatic. As noted in the plan, some of the Species of Greatest Conservation Need that are present here include American woodcock, bobolink, field sparrow, hooded warbler, northern harrier and wood thrush.

Friends Group

A variety of organizations have provided assistance with managing the property throughout the years. The Sheboygan County Conservation Association [exit DNR] secured the first parcel of land and part of the stream for the property by purchasing 40 acres in 1946. They continue to support the management of the property today. Several local chapters of Trout Unlimited Wisconsin [exit DNR] have helped with brushing and other trout stream habitat maintenance on Nichols Creek during the past several years.

Maps

Download [PDF] a map of this property.

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

Useful links
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