Polk Kames, Kettle Hills Preserve and the Zuern Homestead.
This 414-acre parcel is some of the finest kettle moraine topography in Wisconsin. It’s a mix of forest, wetlands and farm fields with 2.8 miles of trails that wind through the second largest cluster of Kames in the state. Kames are steep hills — a leftover land form from the last Ice Age that resulted as the glaciers retreated. They are made of glacial till composed of gravel, sand and rock. Early settlers used these steep hillsides for timber and grazing, but luckily much of the pre-settlement plant composition still persists in the forest.
You can enter the property from a trailhead parking lot on the south side of County Hwy NN, about ¼ mile east of the intersection with State Hwy 144 at the south end of Big Cedar Lake.
The Trail is part of the Ice Age Trail system and in the guidebooks is referred to as the Cedar Lakes Segment. It winds through a mixed forest made of old oaks, sugar maple, white birch and beech. During the winter, the north and east sides of the kames retain snow later in season. The spring months present a scattered display of woodland and prairie wildflowers, including trillium, wood anemone, mayapple, violets, jack-in-the-pulpit and many ferns. During the warmer days of the year, frog-laden ponds create an early morning and late evening chorus echoing between the kames. In the interior is 0.8-mile white-blazed Kame Loop trail, which curves around a prominent kame and allows hikers to see the west side of the kame; look for a large area of shooting star wildflowers on a hilltop north of the kame. It’s a good place to explore, and the fall colors are spectacular.
The Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation purchased the 108 acre Zuern Family Homestead in 2008. Geoff Maclay, founder of the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, began talking with the Zuern family about preservation in the 1980s. Charitable contributions raised by the Foundation under a long-term project entitled “Kettle Hills Nature Preserve” made the organization’s eventual purchase of the Zuern Family Homestead possible. Partnerships forged with state and federal land conservation programs supported purchase of the Zuern Family Homestead. Contiguous with properties which were previously preserved, the combined 414 acres of mid-kettle moraine landscape will now remain natural woodlands, wetlands, and prairie.
“Down deep, our hope was to preserve the land. It was Mary (Zuern) who took the initiative to get us moving forward,” explained Don Zuern.
Kettle Hills Nature Preserve benefits the public through the preservation of Wisconsin’s vanishing natural heritage, protection of wildlife corridors and improved water quality. It provides trails for hiking and cross-country skiing and preservation of the views so many can enjoy. Ownership was transferred to Department of Natural Resources to manage the new mid-kettle moraine parkland, which marks progress toward shared long-term goals of connecting the northern and southern units of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine and installing additions to the Ice Age Trail.
Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation is grateful to the Zuern family for working to achieve preservation of their homestead, which will now only become more special to generations of visitors, and to the many contributors who made it possible.