Dry Lake Research Natural Area

[photo:] Northern wet-mesic forest; TMC Habitat; Dry Lake RNA. USDA Forest Service photo.

Great Divide
The most important features of Dry Lake RNA include diverse wetlands including an open bog and sedge meadow and a significant upland eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) hardwood stand nearing old-growth composition and structure. The extensive marsh and bog wetlands surrounding Dry Lake are undisturbed except for the occasional natural water level manipulation by beaver. Other natural community types include northern wet, wet-mesic, and mesic forest.  Locally, as well as regionally, this forest type once dominated the landscape but is nearly gone in its original form.  The site harbors two rare plant species, dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) and Robbins spikerush (Eleocharis robbinsii).

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
Mellen 4 NE (Station no. 475286). The station is located about 10 mi (16 km) to the north of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 33 inches (85 cm), 54% of which falls between April and September. Average seasonal snowfall is 102 inches (259 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Daily summertime temperatures average 56.4° F; average daily maximum temperatures average 50.3° F. Average temperature in the winter is 22.6° F; average daily minimum temperatures average 28.6° F.
Elevations range from 1,530 feet (466 m) to 1,560 feet (475 m) MSL.
Geology and Soils:
Bedrock of the area includes igneous, metamorphic, and volcanic rock. Bedrock is between 100 feet (30 m) and 50 feet (15 m) of the land surface. Geomorphologic processes include till and glacial meltwater deposition.
Soils of the hemlock - hardwood forests fall into the Gogebic series.  Loxley peat soils are found in the bog/sedge meadow area.  Also present are muck soils of the Lupton, Cathro, and Tawas series.
Aquatic Features:
Dry Lake RNA is a shallow, soft water drainage lake situated on a feeder stream to the Bad River, the main drainage-way of the county. This portion of the Bad River (just outside the RNA) is a state “Outstanding Resource Water”.  The Bad River flows into Lake Superior and is a nationally known watershed of concern. Surface area averages about 18 acres (7 ha) depending on annual precipitation and maximum depth is 7 feet (2 m). The lake’s head is maintained by beaver dams that have washed out occasionally during its history, hence the name Dry Lake.
An un-named stream flowing northwest drains Dry Lake toward the Bad River. This is a fast-water stream with soft, warm water and has a hard bottom, woody debris, and a closed forest canopy. There are several low-flow streams by which Dry Lake receives water from surrounding wetlands.  Several ephemeral ponds also occur within the rolling hills of the hemlock, maple and yellow birch forest.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, 212J Southern Superior Uplands
Winegar Moraines 212Jc
Plant Communities:
Valhalla/Marenisco Moraines Jc05

Curtis Community Type

Kotar Habitat Types

Dominant Species

initial US National Vegetation Classification

Northern mesic forest


eastern hemlock, yellow birch, sugar maple

Tsuga canadensis - (Betula alleghaniensis) Forest; CEGL002598

Northern wet-mesic forest


eastern hemlock, northern white cedar, yellow birch

Tsuga canadensis - Betula alleghaniensis Saturated Forest; CEGL005003

Northern wet forest


black spruce, tamarack

Picea mariana - (Larix laricina) / Ledum groenlandicum / Sphagnum spp. Forest; CEGL005271

Alder thicket


alder, willow

Alnus incana Swamp Shrubland; CEGL002381

Open bog



Chamaedaphne calyculata / Eriophorum virginicum / Sphagnum rubellum Dwarf-shrubland; CEGL006513

Northern sedge meadow


Carex stricta, Carex oligosperma

Carex stricta - Carex spp. Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002258

ephemeral ponds




Lake- soft, drainage


submergent / emergent: white water lily, bullhead lily, pond weed

Nymphaea odorata - Nuphar variegata Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002562

stream- fast, hard, warm


not surveyed

not surveyed

Complete Plant List

Common Shrub Species:
The conifer swamps contain numerous patches of alder (Alnus incana) and mixed northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), eastern hemlock, black ash (Fraxinus nigra) and tamarack (Larix laricina).  The uplands are dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and eastern hemlock with a sparse midstory and shrub layer.
Common Herbaceous Species:
Characteristic ground flora includes wood fern (Dryopteris  intermedia), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), dewberry (Rubus sp), three-leaved goldthread (Coptis trifolia), mountain wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), and species of the lily family.  Plants characteristic to bogs and marshes are present in the site including sphagnum mosses, leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), tussock sedge (Carex stricta), wiregrass (Carex oligosperma) and cattails (Typha latifolia).  Rare species include Robbins spikerush (Eleocharis robbinsii) and mink frog (Lithobates septentrionalis).
Common Fauna:
Mammals typical of northern Wisconsin occur here including white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginiana), beaver (Castor canadensis) and muskrat (Ondantra zibithicus). Dry Lake has an abundant minnow population with panfish and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). A variety of dabbling duck species often nest here.
Potential Research Topics
This RNA is part of a large peatland study undertaken by the Wisconsin DNR to monitor biodiversity related to climate change.  As a headwater lake of the Bad River the RNA would be an ideal location to monitor and study an important riparian system in Wisconsin. Other topics include bats, amphibians, softwater marsh and bog habitat, and forest succession.

Related link: Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Dry Lake

Related Reports and Publications

Anderson, Craig; Ayers, L.; Bergeson, T.  2007.  Biodiversity in selected natural communities related to global climate change, annual summary for 2007 submitted to Wisconsin Focus on Energy Environmental Research Program.  20 pp.  (on file at Park Falls USFS office)

Anderson, Craig; Ayers, L.; Bergeson, T.; Smith, B. 2008.  Biodiversity in selected natural communities related to global climate change, Final Report for 2008 submitted to Wisconsin Focus on Energy Environmental Research Program.  93 pp.  (also on file at Park Falls USFS office).

Brzeskiewicz, Marjory.  2014.  Establishment Record for Dry Lake Research Natural Area.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Eagle River District, Forest County, Wisconsin.   43 pp.

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

Kotar, J., J. Kovach, T. Burger.  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: http://usnvc.org/explore-classification/ Accessed 2012.

Spickerman, S.  1997.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Biological Survey Report: Dry Lake.  Unpublished reports on file in Park Falls Headquarters.

Last Modified: August 19, 2021