You are at the Mecan River Pine-Oak Forest State Natural Area. The DNR says about this area, "Mecan River Pine-Oak Forest represents the only known old-growth white pine/black oak forest in the Central Sand Hills Ecological Landscape. This community type is relatively uncommon. Canopy trees are large white pine, white oak, and red oak up to 36, 30, and 32 inches in diameter respectively. The groundlayer varies in diversity with scattered patches of dense herbs. Characteristic species include wild sarsaparilla, pipsissewa, bracken fern, round-lobed hepatica, partridgeberry, downy rattlesnake plantain, wild geranium, long-leaved bluets, royal fern, and ostrich fern. Breeding birds are pileated woodpecker, eastern wood-pewee, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, wood thrush, yellow-throated vireo, pine warbler, ovenbird, and scarlet tanager. In addition, two state-threatened birds have been recorded here cerulean warbler and red-shouldered hawk. Old stream channels add to the microtopography and diversity within the site. Mecan River Pine-Oak Forest is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2008."
The map below shows this DNR property. The Mecan Fishery Area is larger than the designated State Natural Area which is within the blue boundary line on the map. Click the link to the DNR sites for more information.
Above is a photo taken on the pathway here. Look closely to see the White Tail Deer. This place is special for many reasons. Among them, there are old growth White Pine trees here. Read more about them below. Also, there are very old white, black and red oaks, trees that were here when the settlers first came and long before. Many oaks are losing their lives to oak wilt, but the oaks here have managed to survive many years. It is unusual to find these old trees that were not cut down for lumber in settlement years or after. White Pines have a rich history with the settling of Wisconsin.
Also, the Mecan River which you will see at the end of your walk on this path, is a clear, clean Class II Trout Stream. On early survey maps, it is called the Mekan. Read more about that below, too. You might run into some anglers as you explore this beautiful State Natural Area.
God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. ~John Muir
When the Muirs and other early settlers moved here, white pine was one of the trees being cut and shipped down the Wisconsin River and by road. One of those roads was the Pinery Road stretching from Portage to Nekoosa, then called Point Bas and the pine forests in Northern Wisconsin. The road is still called Pinery Road in Portage. This road went just west of Oxford in Marquette County. A farm house that stands along that road today dates back to about 1850 when it served as a wayside inn for teamsters and travelers on the road. Loggers often slept there. It once had seven chimneys and sixteen small rooms under the eaves accommodated the travelers.
Below are some photos to help you locate the old growth White Pines in the forest here. They show you the bark, the pine cones and the needles.
Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, -- chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. During a man's life only saplings can be grown, in the place of the old trees -- tens of centuries old -- that have been destroyed. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods, -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time -- and long before that -- God has cared for these trees, saved them from, drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools, -- only Uncle Sam can do that.
John Muir in Our National Parks, 1901
The White Pine from the UW-Green Bay Herbarium:
Pinus strobus is the only gymnosperm in Wisconsin with needles arranged in fascicles of 5. The elongate cones may reach nearly 20 cm in length and the trees have the potential to exceed one meter in diameter. It was a major timber tree in Wisconsin during settlement of the northern areas and continues to be highly valued for its wood.
Pinus strobus is distributed from southern Ontario and Minnesota to Iowa, east to Pennsylvania and the maritime provinces of Canada, and extending farther south along the Appalachian Mountains. In Wisconsin it has nearly the same distribution as Pinus resinosa--nearly throughout the state except for a few southeastern counties. It is common on dry sandy and rocky sites, but may also be found in more mesic sites, perhaps remaining from colonizations after fire.
This photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society shows two men at the base of the White Pine tree reported in 1945 to be the largest in the world at 16.8' in circumference and 140.42' in height. Larger specimens have since been reported. This photo was taken in Forest County.
This white pine, cut down in 1937, was 500 years old. It is located in Wausau.
This natural area that is special because of its old growth white pine and black oak trees, is a good place to study and learn about trees. There are many special trees in Marquette County including this one below that is south of John Muir Park on County Road F. An arborist told the owner of the land that the tree shown below is approaching the end of its life, but that it is probably 300 years old. It is a bur oak and would have been a big tree already when John Muir would have passed it on his way to Portage from his home at Fountain Lake Farm.
To identify the oak trees here, use the DNR Forest Trees of Wisconsin link above to find a guide to identifying many Wisconsin trees.
You have to be very careful and mindful in order to identify trees accurately. You can use the bark, leaves or needles, acorns, nuts, flowers, and buds to identify trees. Red and Black Oaks are sometimes very hard to tell apart. Below is a Burr Oak. That pictured Burr Oak is about 300 years old according to an arborist. It is in the last stages of its life, but would have been a large tree already when John Muir would have passed it on his way to Portage from his home on Fountain Lake Farm. Above is a page on Black Oaks. Use the links to give you more information about trees.
Below are links that will give you more information about the Mecan River and other Marquette County Trout Streams. The photos are of the Mecan River. Enjoy!
Marquette County is rich with beautiful natural areas like the one you are now at, the Mecan River Pine-Oak Forest. The other designated State Natural Areas are:
And even more special natural places are shown on the map below which is also available on a link to a pdf that you can print out.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread; places to play inand places to pray in, where nature may heal and cheer, and give strength tobody and soul alike.”John Muir