Standing the test of time

Flanked by a development, Kurtz Woods in the Town of Grafton has remained untouched and is the first forest in Ozaukee County to be named to the Old-Growth Forest Network

A CREW FROM the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, (from left) Megan Manning, Josh Schlicht, Kira Dayton and Dave Sedlacek, left Kurtz Woods Friday after an afternoon of cutting buckthorn, an invasive species. Land Trust staff members will lead tours through Kurtz Woods Sunday following a 5 p.m. ceremony marking the property’s induction in the the Old-Growth Forest Network. Photo by Sam Arendt



Ozaukee Press staff

A visit to Kurtz Woods State Natural Area is a lesson in juxtaposition.

That’s because the Town of Grafton property is a pristine, 100-year-old forest on the edge of a subdivision.

“It’s pretty cool — you’re in a neighborhood one minute and in a pristine forest the next,” Josh Schlicht, stewardship manager for the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, said. “It’s a pretty special place to live next to.”

It’s that pristine forest that has garnered the 45-acre preserve, which is owned by the Land Trust, notice. On Sunday, Feb. 5, it will be inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network in a 5 p.m. ceremony at the preserve.

Following the ceremony, Land Trust staff members will lead a candlelight hike through the property in celebration of the Snow Moon and the induction of the property into the Old-Growth Forest Network.

The Old-Growth Forest Network is a group that’s working to create a national network of protected, publicly accessible forests — at least one in every county in the country — to ensure they are protected from logging and to educate the public about their worth.

Kurtz Woods, which is just south of the Village of Saukville, will be the sixth Wisconsin forest to join the network and the only one in Ozaukee County.

“It’s a pretty great place, and it deserves to be recognized,” Schlicht said. “Old-growth forests are pretty rare here. A lot were cut down, turned into farmland.”

There is evidence that a small portion of the property was logged in the 1930s, he said, but it wasn’t clear cut at the time.

Tom Stolp, executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, noted that the old-growth forest designation wasn’t something the Land Trust sought.

“The Old-Growth Forest Network sought us out,” he said. “This is a great property, and we’re really honored they reached out to us.”

Nick Sanchez, network manager for the Old-Growth Forest Network, said Kurtz Woods is a fantastic addition to the network,” adding his group is “excited to welcome Kurtz Woods into the network as the first forest to be added in 2023.”

Kurtz Woods consists of 42 acres of mature southern mesic forest and is “a remnant of what Ozaukee County looked like pre-settlement,” Schlicht said.

It’s home to more than 80 species of trees, primarily maple and beech but also basswood and black cherry, as well as shrubs and spring ephemerals, and has been largely untouched for the last 100 years.

Schlicht said there are about 100 species of plants on the property, including bloodroot, hepatica, wild leek and spring beauty.

The land, which Schlicht described as a “rolling, Kettle Moraine type of property,” was cared for by the Kurtz family until about 1980, when the family gifted it to The Nature Conservancy, a national preservation agency.

In 2005, The Nature Conservancy gifted Kurtz Woods, as well as Fairy Chasm Natural Area near Mequon and Zinn Preserve in the Town of Erin, to the Land Trust.

It was about that time that the subdivision was developed around Kurtz Woods, Schlicht said. The nature preserve, which was about 30 acres, grew when an outlot from the subdivision was added to it.

“It was great foresight by the Kurtz family and The Nature Conservancy to ensure this property was presented,” Schlicht said.

The Land Trust has developed two entrances to the woods — the main one is off Dahlia Lane —and developed a trail with a loop off it that runs through the property.

The Land Trust maintains the trail and manages the land, primarily by working to keep invasive species such as buckthorn, honeysuckle and garlic mustard out.

“We spend a lot of time each spring making sure not a single garlic mustard plant goes to seed,” Schlicht said.

There’s no bad time to visit Kurtz Woods, Schlicht said.

“Spring is really special there,” he said. “There are herbaceous flowering plants in the woodland, and before the leaves are out on the trees they flower.

“You have a carpet of spring beauty flowers in early May, and there are a lot of other flowers too.

“Summer, it’s great. When the leaves are out on the trees, it can be bright and sunny but you walk into the woods and it’s dark. It’s just amazing — a really great, powerful feeling.

“Fall is spectacular. It has beautiful shades of orange and yellow. On a sunny day in October, it’s amazing.

“Winter has its own charm. There’s snow on the ground and it’s quiet and peaceful.

“There’s not a bad season to visit.”

Stolp agreed, but said he believes spring may be the best time to spend time at Kurtz Woods.

“You have the spring wildflowers and ephemerals that spring up along the forest floor. It’s quite lovely,” he said.

Kurtz Woods, which was designated a state natural area in 1981, is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Other Wisconsin forests that are part of the Old-Growth Forest Network are Muskego Park in Waukesha  County, Sanders Park Hardwoods State Natural Area in Racine County, Holmboe Conifer Forest State Natural Area in Oneida County, Cathedral Pines-Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Oconto County and Plum Lake Hemlock Forest State Natural Area in Vilas County.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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