Badger Apple

Before heading out for a tour of the former Badger Ammunition grounds, Charlie Luthin, the executive director of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance points out areas of interest on a map of the property

While there remains almost nothing of the 80 farmsteads that dotted the Sauk Prairie on the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant, there were a few survivors… apple trees!  Yes, some of the apple trees that had been planted by farmers in their yards prior to World War II survive to this day, representing for some local families the last tangible vestige of their family history on the land. Curt Meine of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance (SPCA) initiated a project several years ago, “The Badger Apple Corp” (pun intended), to document, map and preserve the historic apple trees of this area.

The Badger Apple Project tree nursery where grafted scions of heritage apple trees found on the property are starting out before being moved to a permanent home in a memorial orchard which will be established nearby

The Wisconsin Natural Foods Associates spring meeting was preceded by a tour of the Badger Ammunition Plant grounds which have been reclaimed and are being restored by three different entities. The Ho Chunk Nation, the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center and the Wisconsin DNR (along with the SPCA) have cooperated in this restoration effort.

The tour guides for the day were Charlie Luthin and Curt Meine of the SPCA and Alison Duff of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center. Besides WNFA members, Mike and Barb Hittner, Don and Julie Plier, Randy Krause and Buzz Hetzer, there was also Keefe Keeley, Co-Executive Director of the Savannah Institute and John Mesko, Executive Director of MOSES. We all met at the historical museum just inside the grounds off State Hwy 12 north of Sauk Prairie.

A heritage apple tree sits atop a hill where the land has been reclaimed by volunteers. This area was burned early in the spring after the invasive brush was cut and cleared around old apple trees

The first stop of the tour was the apple tree nursery on the U.S. Dairy Forage Research property. Allison Duff, the research ecologist for the Forage Research Center explained her work. Curt Meine then detailed the plans for the apple nursery. The goal of the apple project is to preserve the historic Badger apples by propagating trees, first in a nursery setting. The new trees will eventually by transplanted into a memorial orchard that will honor the farm families that lost their land when the Badger Plant was constructed.  The trees will ultimately represent the apples found on as many of the historic farmsteads as can be located.

The rest of the morning was spent touring the grounds and seeing the current restoration efforts. A Wisconsin DNR crew was doing a controlled burn and they stopped to explain the burning process and to make sure that we stay safely away. The Ho Chunk Nation was also doing a burn this day. Trails for hikers, bikers and horses are already under way. Bird song and frog chirping filled the air. We passed an old cemetery which was one of two on the property.

The Wisconsin DNR burn crew stopped to explain how they perform a controlled burn. They later burned an area that had previously been brush hogged

All the heritage apple trees have been tagged and mapped with GPS markers. Some of tress were still in pretty good though neglected state; others were at an end of life state. Curt, Charlie and other volunteers find the apple trees and clear around them to help the trees to survive the burns. They also alert the DNR burn crews to their locations as well.

After the tour, the spring meeting was held at the Blue Spoon restaurant in downtown Sauk Prairie where we were joined by WNFA member Dale Johnson. During the luncheon meeting a check was presented to MOSES executive director John Mesko. Many thanks to John, Keefe, Allison, Curt and Charlie for a great outing on a gorgeous day in an incredible location. We look forward to the creation of the memorial orchard and the continue restoration of Badgerlands. The WNFA is proud to be of financial assistance.

Following the tour, a check from the WNFA was presented to the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Left to right: John Mesko, executive director of MOSES, and WNFA members Randy Krause, Dale Johnson, Julie Plier, Don Plier, Mike Hittner and Buzz Hetzer
Keefe Keeley, co-executive director of the Savannah Institute, looks for mushrooms beneath a large heritage apple tree