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Outside In Wisconsin


Thomas Meyer

Tucked into the northeastern corner of the sprawling Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest in Vilas County lies a State Natural Area harboring an ecosystem at one time widespread but now uncommon. Here, at the Lake Alva Birch-Hemlock Forest, remnant old-growth stands of large sugar maple, basswood, white pine, red oak, hemlock and yellow birch give visitors a glimpse of how northern Wisconsin’s forests once appeared.

Signatures of old forests — standing dead snags and decaying downed tree trunks cloaked in mosses and fungi — are scattered about the site. The jumbled topography, a reminder of the thick glacial ice that molded this terrain, adds visual interest.

Anchoring the natural area is Lake Alva, a small wild lake edged by a conifer swamp of black spruce, white cedar, tamarack and balsam fir. A mat of sphagnum moss along with bog rosemary, cinnamon fern, orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants carpet the floor. An old access lane loops through the site and makes for easy exploration by foot.

Visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Lake Alva SNA” for information. And see inside this magazine for more on the DNR’s State Natural Areas Program, celebrating its 70th year in 2021.