Pewit’s Nest Revisited. Still A Mess.

Updated on 8/26: After watching Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area degrade for years, I posted a blog that got a lot of reaction. That was over a year ago. Here we are a year later and things are no better. Frankly, there is no good reason for not properly managing Pewit’s Nest and believe me, in the last year I’ve heard every “reason” in the book.

This year, I’m not going to go on and on about how Pewit’s Nest is overwhelmed. I won’t rat on about the cliff diving or the 4 rescue calls so far this year. (Now 5 as of 8/25) I won’t go on about the graffiti, the litter, the silt build-up, compression, the dead understory, downed trees, artificial erosion, rock stacking, glass beer bottles, loose dogs or even the fire pits. I’ll just say this.. There are ways to manage Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area and right now, it looks like full-on abdication.

But don’t take my word for it, the video above and the pictures below were from a pretty typical Monday morning at Pewits. (You can imagine the weekends.)

I’m happy to meet with anyone who has the power to actually affect change. Let’s talk. What don’t I understand? What are we missing here? I’ve got some low cost, low tech ideas for you. There are a lot of people in the community who are angry yes, but they are also willing to work with you to create real change. Heck, even these kids who are rock-diving would get it, if there was some kind of outreach. Listen, closing Pewit’s is just a cop-out. The point is to manage, not close the property. If you sincerely care about Pewit’s Nest, it is time to act.

UPDATE 8/26 – Yesterday, Just 3 days after this article was posted, there has been another rescue call at Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area.  You can read the article here: Another Rescue call in the news.

The quick responses seem to be balanced between “You Can’t Fix Stupid”, “Shut it down” and the ever popular, “There are warning signs”.   For at least 3 years now we’ve been told that those in charge are looking at solutions.  It really shouldn’t take 3 years.  So, here’s a jump start solution, I call a “Preservation Pass”.

The Preservation Pass would be implemented at any state natural area that becomes overused to the point of damaging the enviroment, causing injuries, etc.   People wanting to visit Pewit’s Nest would be required to go to the Devil’s Lake State Park office and pick up a pass that is free to anyone with a Wisconsin State Park sticker.  This pass is good for the day but (and this is important) it has to be returned when the visitor leaves Pewits. The number of passes issued would be equal to the number of available parking spaces. The idea is that if you have to pick up and return a pass to enter Pewit’s Nest SNA, it’s a hassle, which means a lot of people wouldn’t bother and the ones that do visit would be registered.  This system would, if enforced, quickly control Pewits and allow the park hand out or communicate rules/expectations directly to each visitor when they pick up their pass. With a few tweaks I think a pass system would be cheap, fairly easy to manage and could be implemented within a few weeks.   The system once tested at Pewit’s could be used for other SNAs as populations and visitor numbers continue to grow.

***Obligatory Disclaimer:  This website is NOT associated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not represent the views of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (Which is sometimes too bad if you ask me!).


  1. Devil's Lake Guy

    How can this possibly surprise you?
    You advertise the heck out of it…..and then are perplexed when riff raff leave it in bad shape.
    It’s just gotten worse from all the attention. STOP sending people there, unless YOU are ready to clean up after them.
    Nice work. You let the cat out of the bag and there’s no getting it back.
    Christ, it comes up on Trip Adviser now……Unbelievable!

    1. Author

      Who’s Surprised? That’s an odd comment. And certainly these kids are NOT riff raff. I’m glad they want to be outside in a natural enviroment. The issue is management & education. It’s not complicated. Park Services, both national and state, know how to manage public lands & they have over 100 years of experience in most instances. (Happy Birthday NPS!) These natural attractions are good for our economy and visitors are welcome. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We know that a combination of education, infrastructure & law enforcement can go a long way toward protecting Pewit’s Nest while keeping it accessible. If there is any “surprise” it’s simply that this hasn’t been done. As far as keeping it a “secret”? OK. Never gonna happen.

      1. Devil's Lake Guy

        You’re living in a fantasy world Derrick. You got this ball rolling…..yeah for the internet.
        If you google Devils Lake and your website comes up #1 or 2, and on that website you tell grand tales of a hidden gem called Pewit’s Nest…… therefore ceases to become a hidden gem.
        The local economy did just fine without the introduction of Pewit’s Nest to the masses. Don’t kid yourself.
        If you want it “managed” go out there and do it yourself. Visit twice a week, bring a garbage bag to pick up, talk to visitors and educate them on what not to do, etc. OR just complain that it’s not being done FOR you.
        I challenge you to clean up what is partially your mess. PN is a small enough area where you can make a major difference. Education, infrastructure & law enforcement????? Dude, come on. These sound like the words of a planner not a do’er.
        How about your next blog be about how great your back yard is and that all are welcome.

        1. Author

          LOL! I’m sure I do. 🙂 I’m good with that.

          For what it’s worth, you probably jumped the shark there. 🙂 Not knowing me, i understand that you may not know how much time I spend cleaning or volunteering or carrying out trash. (But this fall, you’re welcome to come join us. Just fill out a volunteer form!) When it comes to talking to folks and education.. well, I’ve got that covered too.

          But again, the topic is protecting Pewit’s Nest going today. To really restore it, we need the DNR to be a partner. Otherwise just taking out the trash and education won’t solve the problem. That’s the planning bit. trails, plant restoration, etc.. We can do it, but the DNR has to approve etc..

      2. Gem City Giant

        Derrick – You also just uploaded a video that shows what these kids and thrill seekers can do when they get to your little gem. Not sure what your agenda is but you don’t seem to fully understand the power of social media. Keep posting pictures and videos and more people will come. Only 4 rescues this year is pretty good odds for the thousands that come to enjoy it.

        1. Author

          You give me too much credit. Thank you!.. Thing about “Understanding the Power of Social Media” is that you should probably do a bit of research before you form your opinion.

          You may start here if you like:

          Then try this:

          Practically everyone who dives or visits seems to have posts or videos of themselves on snapchat, twitter or elsewhere! Websites that are advertising Pewit’s as a “Swimming Hole” are common. (I actually have gotten a couple of those changed) You can easily check places from facebook to Reddit and find comments, posts, messages all saying it’s great place to dive and swim or from people who’ve done it. I’m about the only voice out here saying Pewit’s is Not a swimming hole, and saying we need to get it under control.

          1. Jason

            These people who are blasting Derrick are ignorant or do not live in Sauk County. I teach HS there and teens have known about Pewit’s for years and years- the only difference now is that they have their OWN cell phone videos of them cliff diving. That’s what is ramping up visitors, not this site.

  2. M

    I’ve tried to contact the DNR and others about this before. All I ever get to is they say there is no money or resources to do anything. Many of them seem as frustrated with it as we are. If they cannot get funding and resources to care for the property then it should be closed before the dammage gets worse. Let the property heal and consider reopening in the future with a management plan in place. leaving the area open for the sake of tourism dollars is ridiculous. We were just fine before everyone knew about the area.
    Lets remember what a state natural area is. It’s is set aside to preserve a piece of land and provide a refuge for rare plants and animals.
    It doesn’t need paved trails and bathrooms, that would ruin it even more.
    Close it until it can be managed properly.

    1. Author


      Yeah, I hear that as well. Thing is, I think it’s too easy to just get frustrated and give up. There are other solutions. Mobilizing volunteers and Friends Groups would be the easiest solution. Thing is, someone at the DNR has to accept responsibility to lead, approve restoration efforts, etc. A “Preservation Pass” system could be put in place as well to manage the numbers. A program that I feel would be a very effective solution.

      Second there does have to be some clear rules regarding climbing cliffs and diving. Not just empty “we’ll close the property” threats. Additional ranger patrols have to be put in place. Even if only once a day during peak times.. I have a pretty good feeling an hour or two of time now and again could be prioritized for patrols.

      I hear everyone who says “close it” .. I simply don’t agree. Closed public land isn’t public land any longer. What’s worse, it sets a precedent. Why not close state parks, national parks? Why not sell them off or privatize them? We start down a slippery slope when OUR DNR no longer functions as the caretaker of our public lands. To protect public land into the future, we need to help and volunteer, but ultimately we need to make our government responsible for the sake of future generations.

    2. Natalie McCauley

      Is there any chance that the state would consider selling Pewit’s nest to the Nature Conservancy or another preservation group in the Baraboo area? Maybe a different agency would be more interested in and willing to spend the time and funds to manage and preserve the grounds – it’s a shame to see such a beautiful area trampled into oblivion…

      1. Author

        Good Point. I’m always a bit leery of selling public land to private groups as it sets a political precedent, defund, then blame them for not managing the property, then sell them to private business. That’s been a fight going on across the country. I prefer a pass system, where anyone with a state park pass could get what I call a “Preservation Pass” at the Devil’s Lake SP visitor center at no additional cost. Passes are limited to the number of parking spaces at Pewits. Pass visitors would have to return the passes when they are done or be fined. The idea is that if you have to pick up and return a pass to enter Pewits, it’s a hassle, which means a lot of people wouldn’t bother and the ones that did would be registered. With a few tweaks I think a pass system would be cheap, fairly easy to manage and could be implemented within a few weeks.

  3. Laura

    When I went there last there were signs that’s you could go no further only half way in! My thought is ,the reason I enjoy the spot is to get to the waterfall at the end. Why go if you can’t get to the end… That’s the whole point! In fact what is the whole point of beauty that no one sees ever…. Except in cases of water shed.. Marshes that just need to be left alone as they serve a purpose for run off of all our concrete cities etc…why don’t you call for volunteers to make log terraced steps as far as you can where there is still earth anyway. I spent my whole summer doing that for erosion problems… It’s doable. And then there is the issue of patrol.., once or twice a day have someone check it out .. Talk with the people.. Just be a presence.. Take a half hour to police the spot… You DNR people! The large rock formations are millions+ years old.., we’re not hurting them any.. Put reasonable “rules” up… ie.. Don’t make damns…. Don’t dive unless you want to possibly be a quadriplegic or paraplegic your whole life or if you don’t want to end your life here today. Kids just don’t think… Give food for thought signs.. Not all kids are bad but almost all kids think they are immortal. Signs
    Aren’t expensive… And some will follow them.

  4. M

    I’m not saying close it permanently, but I think closing it a while for trail rehabilitation would be needed. I want people to be able to enjoy the area, but we need to find a way to do it while preserving it. New trails could be marked and include some educational points of interest/educational signage. Once reopened it would need someone to enforce the rules as well as visitors cooperation to stay on marked trails.
    My understanding is that the Devils lake rangers are the ones responsible for checking up on the property. I’ve discussed it before with them and they say there simply isn’t enough manpower to do much in the way of patrols at pewits nest. I know they have their hands full with Devils Lake already but maybe if we spoke up enough, they could somehow allocate time and funds to better care for the area.
    The pass idea sounds good but we still need someone to enforce it. Somehow there needs to be a max capacity at a time.
    To my understanding, the Nature Conservancy is who bough the land from the private owners originally then later they sold/gifted it to the DNR.
    I wonder if Sauk County would be interested in taking it over. Would require a county park pass to enter/park and the extra pass money could be used to care for the park/natural area. Just a thought but worth bringing up to the county board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *