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Conservation area near Maiden Rock is open to public, but known to few

MAIDEN ROCK -- Preserved forever.

That's the status of Pine Creek park, a 10-acre nature area off Highway 35 just east of Maiden Rock.

The public is welcome to roam this unusual piece of land, though to call it a park might be stretching things. It has no amenities -- no outhouse, no water source other than the creek, not even any signage except for the one in the minuscule parking lot, which can hold three cars or two trucks.

But this conservation area doesn't need any more parking. That's because almost no one ever goes there.

For the ultimate in Wisconsin woodland experience, this is probably it.

The land is owned by the West Wisconsin Land Trust, which also has private easements on land up the valley to protect the sources of Pine Creek, a trout stream that flows through limestone rocks varying in size from pebbles to boulders.

The park is open to the public for hiking, bird-watching and fishing, says Britta Kelly, conservation coordinator of the Menomonie- based land trust. No ATVs or other off-road vehicles are allowed, though. The purpose is to maintain this land, not tear it up.

There are two contiguous parcels, one off County Road AA and the other just across County Road E.

"The trust works primarily with private landowners who want to preserve their property and perpetuate it in its current condition,"

Kelly said.

Prairie grass and other native vegetation have been planted in the park so visitors can get a glimpse of what the Mississippi River bluffs area once looked like before the flat land above was stripped and planted with crops.

Just beyond the park is Rustic Road 51, which winds its way to the top of the surrounding hills. The drive offers a close-up look at the valley's charms before spilling out into rolling farmland at the top.

One of those farms is owned by Linda Keefe, a West Wisconsin Land Trust board member whose 40 acres have a private conservation easement to help preserve the creek.

"The land at the top is not farmed much now due to erosion," Keefe said. "This place had all been founded on corn. There was a mess of runoff at the bottom."

Today, she said, there's more oxygen in the creek and the water temperature is lower. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is working this summer on part of Pine Creek park to deepen the trout pools, she said.

While Rustic Road 51 is perfect for mountain biking, motorcycling, ATV riding and scenery watching, there is no place for off-roading, since all the land along the road is privately owned. Drivers also will feel most comfortable in an SUV or truck. Several springs that spill across the road on their way to Pine Creek must be forded, and drivers may need to pull off the one-lane road into the brush to let oncoming traffic pass.

Visitors also may want to take in another land trust area just down County Road E from Pine Creek, the legendary Maiden Rock bluff, which offers a view of where the Indian maiden supposedly threw herself off the rocks after being betrothed to a brave she despised. To reach the bluff trails, take County Road E west, turn right onto Long Lane, and continue to the end of the road.