This May 1942 photo shows the north half of Badger Ordnance Works main production area under construction. It was built on the terminal moraine and outwash plain of a glacier that stopped there about 12,000 years ago. This outwash plain is known as the Sauk Prairie named for the Sauk Indians who occupied a village of 90 homes where Sauk City, Wis., is located today. See more history at www.badgerordnancehistory.org and get excited for the new recreational history to come.
This May 1942 photo shows the north half of Badger Ordnance Works main production area under construction. It was built on the terminal moraine and outwash plain of a glacier that stopped there about 12,000 years ago. This outwash plain is known as the Sauk Prairie named for the Sauk Indians who occupied a village of 90 homes where Sauk City, Wis., is located today. See more history at www.badgerordnancehistory.org and get excited for the new recreational history to come.
It's not every day in our thoroughly settled and fairly tame Midwest that a huge chunk of "wild" land opens up to the public.

Yet that's exactly what's happening to our east in Wisconsin. The former Badger Army Ammunition Plant - 7,000-plus acres near Baraboo and next to popular and pretty Devil's Lake State Park - is in the process of becoming the Wisconsin DNR's Sauk Prairie Recreation Area.

If you find yourself salivating at the chance to explore, let's take a look at some of this land's history for a proper appreciation. I found this information for Badger in a brochure online.

"In 1942, at the beginning of the Second World War, the federal government took possession of nearly 10,000 acres of the Sauk Prairie north of the village of Prairie du Sac, Wis., to build what would become the largest military munitions plant in the world. More than 80 farm families were forced to abandon their homes and land within a few months' time.

"The Badger Ordnance Works, later called the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, manufactured smokeless gunpowder and rocket propellant to serve the U.S. military through World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. At the height of its activity, Badger employed over 10,000 people, and remained a major employment center for Sauk County for decades.

"One remaining impact of years of munitions production and related on-site waste disposal practices is groundwater contamination. The U.S. Army has an ongoing groundwater remediation and monitoring program under the supervision of the Wisconsin DNR, to meet federal and state groundwater quality standards

"The Badger plant ceased operation in 1975, and the U.S. Army declared the facility excess to its needs in 1997. The federal government, through its real estate and property arm, the U.S. General Services Agency, initiated a process to dispose of the Badger property. A contentious debate over Badger's future ensued, with calls to re-establish an industrial manufacturing center competing with pleas to return the land to its original inhabitants and owners."

There's much more reading at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/masterplanning/saukprairie/. The immediate history comes from a link on the site to the PDF "background document" called "Overview and History."

Personal

Some of my reasons are personal in learning more about the Badger/Sauk Prairie project. It somewhat reminds me of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near Lafarge, Wis., where plans for a dam and lake saw the removal of residents.

For some reason, the dam was barely started and never completed. It left an area that became, in effect, a large recreation area. I've enjoyed fun times hiking, canoeing the Kickapoo River and camping there. It almost seems like a "secret" area, since it's not designated as a state park, but a "preserve" - whatever that means.

Moving our focus to southwestern South Dakota grasslands, a few years back I'd driven the public road through the remainders of a so-called town and marveled at the strange - and now privately owned - former munitions plant known as Igloo.

I really had wanted to take a tour of the former Badger plant when the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin offered it a few years ago. I had joined that organization mostly for its unique field trips, although I'll grudgingly admit (with a wink) I suppose Wisconsin is worth saving. That tour might well have been the only way most people would have been able to see the environs of Badger returning to nature at that time. I was intrigued.

Here's an overview on the land and the plan, taken from the Wisconsin DNR website: "The Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, located in southeastern Sauk County, consists of a portion of the decommissioned 7,354-acre Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP). The property has a natural and human history that is significant on many scales. The former BAAP is, or will be, primarily owned by three parties: DNR (3,500 acres), Ho-Chunk Nation (1,600 acres) and Dairy Forage Research Center (2,100 acres), approximate acreages. Our master planning process focuses on the DNR-designated acreage."

The public can check out the land for a limited time. A press release states: "The Sauk Prairie Recreation Area will be open to the public for all six of the week-long (Wisconsin) spring turkey hunting periods, which started April 16 and will run through Tuesday May 27. In addition to turkey hunting, visitors may hike, trap and bike on the subset of roads within the complex that are open to the public. As with other State Park properties, activities such as bird watching, nature photography and mushroom picking are also welcome."

The public may access the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area at the main gate off of U.S. Hwy. 12 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. An after-hour's entrance to the property on Wis. Hwy. 78 (Gate 7, just north of Kilpatrick Drive) will be open one hour before the opening of turkey hunting hours through one hour after they end. Maps showing the roads and areas open to the public will be available at both entry points. Some areas within the property remain closed to public access due to safety issues. No bathroom facilities or drinking water are available on DNR lands.

"In addition to the lands owned by DNR, the U.S. Army is also opening many of the lands it still owns at the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant to public use during this time. All remaining buildings and areas around them are closed areas and may not be entered.

"The USDA Dairy Forage Research Center lands are closed to hunting and all other public recreation activities. The Research Center has agreed to allow public access across its lands at two designated roads to accommodate visitors traveling to and from the southern block of DNR land.

"Following the end of the final turkey season, the property will close May 28 to accommodate contractors that will be consolidating rubble piles throughout the property. The rubble will be crushed and used as base material in the planned reconstruction of U.S. Hwy. 12 starting in 2015. In addition, DNR staff will be conducting additional clean-up and deconstruction work throughout the summer and fall."

Public comment

As you might imagine, there are a wide range of ideas on how to use the property, causing heated arguments. One topic of contention is a call for a gun shooting range, as well as an area to ride all-terrain vehicles.

To read more on the land, plans for it and comments, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/masterplanning/saukprairie/

If you're an explorer, plan a trip now to check out the area before the changes are made for the recreation area. Or wait until the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area is officially open. Remember to visit and/or stay at Devil's Lake State Park when there.