Wilson Lake Research Natural Area

Shoreline of Wilson Lake where it transitions from upland forest to wet sedge meadow. Photo: Steven Spickerman 2006, USDA Forest Service.

Sawyer and Bayfield
Great Divide
Wilson Lake RNA contains a mosaic of high quality, pristine wetland communities including three lakes, a spring pond, a soft-water creek corridor, open bog, sedge meadow, emergent and submergent aquatic communities. Other plant communities present include: northern wet and wet-mesic forest; northern mesic forest; and northern dry-mesic forest. Rare species include dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa), spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), and migratory bird species.  All the components of a heterogeneous landscape are present and the critical interface between wetland and upland communities is intact.

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
Drummond Ranger Station (Station no. 472240). The station is located about 18 mi (29 km) to the northwest of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 34 inches (87 cm), 69% of which falls between April and September.  Average seasonal snowfall is 68 inches (173 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Daily summertime temperatures average 59° F; average daily maximum temperatures average 53° F. Average temperature in the winter is 25° F; average daily minimum temperatures average 31° F.
Elevations range from 1,400 feet (427 m) to 1,500 feet (457 m) MSL.
Geology and Soils:
The majority of the RNA lies within Chequamegon Washed Till and Outwash Land Type Association (LTA) with metamorphic, igneous, and volcanic bedrock. Greater than 70% of the bedrock is within 5 feet of the land surface. The balance of the RNA is within Telemark Washed End Moraine. Here the bedrock of is carbonates and the bedrock is between 100 and 50 feet of the land surface. Geomorphologic processes throughout the RNA include till and glacial meltwater deposition.
The site contains numerous glacial eskers that rise abruptly above the otherwise flat marshes and lakes.
Wetland soils fall into the Loxley, Beseman, and Dawson peat series. These soils are very poorly drained and consist of organic material is derived largely from sphagnum mosses and herbaceous plants. The water table is at the surface throughout the year. The upland areas consist of well drained Padus-Karlin series soils that occur on steep side slopes of eskers and large drumlinoid features with an outwash core. Textures include a silt loam, fine sandy loam, or sandy loam surface over medium and coarse sands.
Aquatic Features:
Wilson Lake, a 103-acre (42 ha) acid bog lake supports a healthy fish population that also includes undetermined species of minnows.  Spring Lake is a small 11-acre (4 ha) lake whose unnamed outlet stream, flows into Star Lake. It has several spring water sources. The 104-acre (42 ha) Star Lake is also an acid bog, shallow lake with a maximum depth of 15 feet (4 m) and is the headwaters of Wilson Creek.   Wilson Creek originates from two small feeder streams flowing into Star Lake and then flows south through the RNA into Wilson Lake and finally into Lost Land Lake on the Teal River System.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, Northern Highland (212X)
Glidden Loamy Drift Plain (Xa)
Hayward Stagnation Moraines (Xf)
Land Type Association(s):
Chequamegon Washed Till and Outwash (Xa03)
Telemark Washed End Moraine (Xf02)
Plant Communities:

Curtis Community Type

Kotar Habitat Types

Dominant Species initial US National Vegetation Classification

Northern dry-mesic forest


white pine, red pine, paper birch

Pinus strobus - (Pinus resinosa) - Quercus rubra Forest; CEGL002480 or Pinus strobus - Tsuga canadensis Great Lakes Forest; CEGL002590

Northern mesic forest


hemlock, sugar maple

Tsuga canadensis - Acer saccharum - Betula alleghaniensis Forest; CEGL005044 or CEGL002457

Northern wet-mesic forest


white cedar, black ash, balsam fir

Thuja occidentalis - (Larix laricina) Seepage Forest; CEGL002455

Northern wet forest


tamarack & black spruce

Picea mariana - (Larix laricina) / Ledum groenlandicum / Sphagnum spp. Forest; CEGL005271 or Picea mariana / Chamaedaphne calyculata / Sphagnum spp. Dwarf-shrubland; CEGL005218

Northern sedge meadow


tussock sedge, lake sedge (Carex stricta, lacustris)

Carex stricta - Carex spp. Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002258

Northern sedge meadow


bluejoint grass

Calamagrostis canadensis - Eupatorium maculatum Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL005174 or CEGL005256

Open bog


labrador tea, leatherleaf

Chamaedaphne calyculata / Eriophorum virginicum / Sphagnum rubellum Dwarf-shrubland; CEGL006513 (and variations) or Chamaedaphne calyculata - Ledum groenlandicum - Kalmia polifolia Bog Dwarf-shrubland;  CEGL005278

Lakes: soft, acid, bog, drainage (Wilson and Star)


pondweed, bullhead lily, coontail

Potamogeton spp. - Ceratophyllum spp. Midwest Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002282 or CEGL002262

Lake: shallow, hard, drainage (Spring Lake)


pondweed, bullhead lily, coontail

Potamogeton spp. - Ceratophyllum spp. Midwest Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002282 or CEGL002262

Stream: slow, soft, warm (Wilson Creek)


eel grass

Vallisneria americana

Complete Plant List

Common Shrub Species:
Shrubs of the wetlands include sweetgale (Myrica gale), bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla), bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), and blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides).  An open bog also supports a variety of bog dwarf-shrubland species.
Common Herbaceous Species:
Herbaceous species include round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris), arrow-grass (Triglochin spp), cotton-grasses (Eriophorum spp), and wild calla (Calla). The wetlands are a unique blend of diverse sedge meadow and open bog communities including wiregrass wet meadow with and without sphagnum; areas of sphagnum lawn without sedges; bluejoint grass meadow; and coarse sedge/cattail meadow.  Dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) occurs here in large numbers along the bog shore of the lakes and streams.
Common Fauna:
Wilson Lake RNA provides important habitat for spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), a state threatened species, which is known to occur here.  Nesting bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and osprey (Pandion haliaetus) have also been observed within the wetland complex. Other common mammals of the area include beaver (Castor canadensis), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  Common fish species include largemouth bass (Micropteris salmoides), perch (Perca flavescens) and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus).
Potential Research Topics:
Potential research topics include peatlands, sedge plant communities, shallow softwater lake systems and northern dry-mesic forest communities in juxtaposition with groundwater-influenced wetlands.

Related link: Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Wilson Lake

Related Reports and Publications

Anderson, C.; Ayers, L.; Bergeson, T.; Smith, B. 2008. Biodiversity in Selected Natural Communities Related to Global Climate Change, Final Report July 2008 submitted to Wisconsin Focus on Energy Environmental Research Program.  https://focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/research/andersonbiodiversity_report.pdf

Brzeskiewicz, Marjory.  2014.  Establishment Record for Wilson Lake Research Natural Area.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Eagle River District, Forest County, Wisconsin.   45 pp.

Crow, T.R.; Cleland, D.T.; DonnerWright, D.M.; Gustafson, E.J.; Lytle, D.E.; Parker, L.R.; Probst, J.; Schulte, L.A.; Sturtevant, B.R.; Zollner, P.A. 2006. Managing midwestern landscapes using ecological principles. In Chen, J.; Saunders, S.C.; Brosofske, K.D.; Crow, T.R. eds. Linking ecology to landscape hierarchies. Nova Sciences Publishers, New York. p. 251-281.

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

Hoffman, R. 1998.  Unpublished project report on Wilson Creek Bog. Unpublished Forest Service report on file in Park Falls office.

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: http://usnvc.org/explore-classification/ Accessed 2012.

Spickerman, S.; Krause, J.; Brzeskiewicz, M.  1997.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Research Natural Area Evaluation Report: Wilson Creek Sedge Meadow and Pines.  Unpublished report on file in Park Falls Chequamegon-Nicolet Office.

Last Modified: August 20, 2021