At a private location not far from Trek’s headquarters, a small gravel drive bisects a farm field. At its mouth, a modern ranch gate juts stalwartly into the blue Wisconsin sky. From here, the yellow road dips under a heavy-timber railroad trellis, then opens to a 236-acre prairie enclosed by a border of thick oak and pine woodland.
For ages, a local family farmed this land. But despite their efforts, the soil never suited agriculture, and, in the end, the harvest never seemed worth the effort. In its native state, however, the land was an oak savanna with rippling big bluestem and indiangrass. Before the farming, herds of white-tailed deer high-stepped through the tall grass, and red-tailed hawks sprung from the scattered burr and black oak, dragging their tethered shadows through the wildflowers, searching for the panicked scramble of a field mouse.
Eventually, the family conceded the sandy, rocky soil. They stopped their farming efforts and struck a deal with the bike manufacturers up the road who were looking for a place employees could test their new mountain bike models. The family was happy to let Trek build trails under one condition: For two weeks a year, during turkey and deer season, the trails would close and the land would be free of cyclists. Good deal.
The prairie, even then in its depleted state, was beautiful, though in a way that most Midwestern farmland is geometrically beautiful. But despite whatever balance was suggested by the remnants of the evenly plowed furrows, the land was out of whack.
And so when Trek set out to build a local mountain bike testing ground, the trail architects envisioned the land in its native state. Restoration, they decided, would be just as important as recreation, and the two seemingly divergent endeavors would come together in a symbiotic relationship.
To begin nurturing the prairie back to a healthy state, Trek enlisted the help of EC3 Environmental Consulting Group Inc. and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. We seeded over thirty different varieties of native grasses and wildflowers and reintroduced thousands of native trees. The land’s varied topography called for varied seeding, so that the prairie and woodlands could both thrive within one border. In winter, deer tracks carve winding paths beneath the snow-covered white oak and pine. In spring, the prairie bursts with black-eyed susans, wild white indigo, ox-eye sunflower, and wild bergamot.