Brush Creek Research Natural Area

[photo:] Brush Creek is a narrow, rocky stream that forms the southern boundary of the RNA. Photo by D Fields 1996.

Medford-Park Falls
Brush Creek RNA centers around a northern mesic forest of second-growth eastern hemlock-hardwood forest containing an exceptional super-canopy white pine component on rugged terminal moraine topography. Interspersed throughout the area are numerous forested stands of mixed conifer and hardwood swamps in kettle depressions and along riparian drainages. Also included is a forested reach of Brush Creek, a headwater, morainal stream with rocky, cascading segments alternating with black ash bottomland forest. The site includes and borders a glacially formed ice-walled lake plain. This site is embedded within an area recognized by the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative as an Important Bird Area (IBA) which by definition provides essential habitat to one or more species of breeding or non-breeding birds, such as rare red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) and northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
The Medford 1 SW weather station is 20 miles southeast of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 33.2 inches (84.3 cm), 70% of which falls between April and September. Average seasonal snowfall is 40.3 inches (102.3 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Temperatures average 58.6° F between April and September and between October and March temperatures average 23.9° F. Daily maximum temperatures average 51.3° F and daily minimum temperatures average 31.1° F.
Elevations range from 1,300 feet (396 m) to 1,370 feet (418 m) above sea level.
Geology and Soils:
Landform is terminal end moraine of the Chippewa Lobe. The terrain tends to be hummocky, with steep slopes and wet kettle depressions common. Upland soils are generally well-drained sandy loam. Moisture regime ranges from mesic to wet and nutrient status from medium to medium-rich. Soils include deep peat and Iron River-Milaca-Pence association. Peat soils occupy nearly level, broad peat basins. They are formed from sedges, grasses and woody peats more than 42 inches (107 cm) deep. These acidic soils often support scattered to dense stands of black spruce with tamarack and cedar common on sites with internal water movement. Soils of the Iron River-Milaca-Pence series occupy rolling to steep glacial uplands. They formed in shallow loamy deposits over sandy loam to loam glacial till or sandy, gravelly and cobbly outwash.
Aquatic Features:
Brush Creek is a headwater, morainal stream with rocky, cascading segments alternating with black ash (Fraxinus nigra) bottomland forest. Interspersed throughout the site are small ephemeral woodland ponds that occur in some of the glacial depressions.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Northern Highlands (212X)
Perkinstown End Moraines (212Xe)
Landtype Association(s):
Perkinstown End Moraines (212Xe)
Plant Communities:
Community Type
Kotar Habitat
US National
Vegetation Classification
Northern wet-mesic forest ATM eastern hemlock sugar maple Tsuga canadensis - (Betula alleghaniensis) Forest CEGL002598
Northern mesic forest AH sugar maple, basswood, hickory bitternut Acer saccharum - Fraxinus americana - Tilia americana / Acer spicatum / Caulophyllum thalictroides   CEGL005008
Northern wet-mesic forest   black ash Fraxinus nigra - Mixed Hardwoods - Conifers CEGL002105
Northern wet forest   black spruce and tamarack Picea mariana - (Larix laricina) / Ledum groenlandicum / Sphagnum  CEGL005271
Northern sedge meadow     several possible
Alder thicket   speckled alder Alnus incana Swamp Shrubland CEGL002381
Stream – fast, soft, warm      
Ephemeral pond      

Complete Plant List

Common Shrub Species
Mountain maple (Acer spicatum), Bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis), American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis).
Common Herbaceous Species:
Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), Obscure (rare) clubmoss (Lycopodium obscurum), Bearded shorthusk (Brachyelytrum erectrum), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), Bluebead (Clintonia borealis), Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Threeleaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia), Roughleaf ricegrass (Oryzopsis asperifolia), Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytonia), Mountain woodsorrel (Oxalis montana), Intermediate woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia), Long beechfern (Phegopteris connectilis), Dwarf red blackberry (Rubus pubescens), Shining clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula), Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
Common Fauna
Fauna typical of mesic northern forest and riverine communities is expected in the RNA.
Potential Research Topics
rush Creek provides unique opportunities to investigate forested ice-walled lake plain glacial features (eg. varved sediments) and the rich vegetation found there, Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) near the southwestern edge of its range, and habitat attracting large raptors.  Surveys of taxa not yet recorded include amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, bats, and other mammals.

Related link: Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Brush Creek Hemlocks

Related Reports and Publications

Brzeskiewicz, Marjory.  2013.  Establishment Record for Brush Creek Research Natural Area.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Medford-Park Falls District, Taylor County, Wisconsin.    39 pp.

Curtis, J. T. 1959. Vegetation of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI.

Kotar, J.; Kovach, J.; Burger, T.  2002.  A Guide to Forest Communities and Habitats of Northern Wisconsin (2nd edition).  Madison: University of Wisconsin, Department of Forest Ecology and Management.

NGDC. National Geographic Data Committee. 2012. National Vegetation Classification Standard (NVCS). Available online: Accessed 2012.

Last Modified: August 19, 2021