Changes For Pewit’s Nest SNA

Changes For Pewit’s Nest SNA

After years of complaints, controversy, and activism, a final draft management plan for Pewit’s Nest State Natural area HAS BEEN APPROVED*. The new plan, among other things, will close access to the cliffs while adding a clear trail, a staircase, fencing and viewing areas. Some signs have already gone up within the SNA in anticipation of the coming changes.

* This proposal was approved by the Natural Resources Board on June 27th, 2017. Press Release.

What is the Purpose of A State Natural Area?

“The purpose of the SNA Program is to protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites. Natural areas are valuable for research and educational use, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity, and for providing ecological benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands. They also provide habitat for numerous rare plants and animals.” – Pewit’s Nest SNA Draft Management Plan 2017

Review The Full Plan

Pewit's Nest SNAProposed Infrastructure

Pewit’s Nest SNA Proposed Infrastructure

The Changes

According to Thomas Meyer, Conservation Biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “The DNR will place a wooden “fence” at the top and establish a closed area that parallels the top of the gorge.” It will allow visitors a couple of vantage points to see into the gorge bottom, but will not allow them to access the cliff edges or cliff faces… There will also be a wooden staircase constructed to facilitate access to the gorge-top viewpoints and to help prevent more gully erosion. There will be signs posted that clearly define the closed area and state that climbing on rock faces, cliff jumping, food, beverage, fires, etc. are not permitted. “

Pewit’s Nest will also become a “fee area”.

The part of the plan that isn’t obvious at first glance, is that the only access into the gorge itself will be from the **west end through the deepest pools. It is currently popular for folks to walk across the top of the gorge and then enter on the east end and walk west through the shallow end. This access will be closed. If effective, the new restriction will keep all but the most adventurous hikers out of the bottom of the gorge.

Read the full report for details.

My Thoughts

We fully support the new draft plan for Pewit’s Nest and have to add, “Halleluja & It’s about time!” Pewit’s Nest has been overrun for a decade and has not been cared for by the folks entrusted to care for it. I hope this is a sign of real interest and change by the powers that be. Without regular supervision and enforcement, many of these changes will simply be a waste of money and an exercise in futility.

Pewit’s Nest in Autumn

State Natural Areas were never intended to be parks or recreation areas. They are not “swimming holes”. They are research or preservation areas. At the same time, they are collectively our research and preservation areas. So, WE, the public, should always be allowed to visit them and have a good look around. That said, we also need to respect them as we would a museum, there are restrictions to protect valuable areas and items. The new plan addresses the goals of preserving the natural area’s plant and animal communities including rare & endangered species. (Basically, preventing all life in the SNA from being crushed to death.) It’s also aims to slow down the erosion of the sandstone and preserve the beauty of the area for years to come. AND doing this while keeping publicly owned land, as public as possible for everyone to enjoy. In that sense, the plan addresses tourism and our local economy as well.

Again, I want to personally express my gratitude and say that I know a lot of folks care about this issue and many with within the DNR are honestly trying to make real changes in a challenging environment. So let’s give them support to preserve Pewits….

(Then we can talk about Parfrey’s Glen….)

***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.

** Correction.  Inverted my “west” and “east” mistake.
* Update: This proposal has passed and the article has been updated to reflect the change



  1. Stephanie Cloak-Sander

    I agree with you it is about time that this should happen. It is bittersweet thou. It is too bad that too many people have found and misused this wonderful place. It just takes a few bad apples to sour a place.

  2. mary

    jmo,,I think it a great start,,See us ,”older folks,” need to understand,,it not like the good ole days,,,where only the locals know about this place to cool off,,,with thee invention of the internet,,,everyone w/in 4 hours of devils lake knows about it,,I saw cars parked all along W,,,w/illinios plates,,EVERYWHERE,,, soo,,,to avoid the state from being sued,,,,great start,,,maryw

  3. Joe S

    A fence isn’t going to do anything, first off you are making what is supposedly to be a natural area unnatural. Second, you really think a fence is going to stop kids from climbing over? What’s next? Planting stuff in the water below so someone does get hurt? It’s just a waste of money, the fence will have holes and kids will still find many places to climb over and get to the cliffs. Plus you can’t just close off the swimming hole. By god you might as well close it down to the public if this is what they are going to do…

    1. Author

      Hi Joe,

      OK. I hear ya. So, given your arguments, how would you address the goals of protecting the environment while allowing public access?

      1. Joe S

        I do understand it’s hard to enforce someone that they can’t jump off cliffs and to throw away their trash. But the first thing I would do is put a trash bin right at the front gate. I was there June 6 and a friend and I hauled trash out l. Honestly we didn’t find much, we also tried to find a fire pit to cover up but we couldn’t find one either. It’s sad to think that such a fun summer spot is now a “fee area” and now might as well be considered a water park… well I guess not because we can’t get to the bottom of the gorge now. I understand that the eroding of the cliffs is occurring because they are being climbed on, but at what rate. Are they eroding as much as the cliffs in the dells river area? It probably doesn’t even matter anymore, I’m just wasting my time, the earths temperatures are rising anyways and who knows if we’ll be around in 100 years. I guess I’ll go find some other cliffs to jump off and ruin and then have them closed. Then I guess I’ll have to trespass on to bridges or whatever. I’m sorry my activity is not accepted. Guess I’ll have to buy a parachute and jump off antennas in the future.

      2. mary

        TRAP CAMERA’S AND 1,000 DOLLAR FINES,,, seriously,,,many kids have already gotten hurt,,,,being stupid,,,now I was a teenager once too,,,never jumped off of cliffs,,,,swam in lakes yes,,but this is not about me,, is it,,just like it not about you,”cliff jumpres,,or kids wanting to do stupid things,,,,its about our envirement,,,and saving this beauty for future generations,,,for this generation is ruining it,,,All it will take is 1 parent,,,who’s kid gets killed,,, for his/her kid being stupid,,,and the state getting sued,,,then the entire place will be closed,,and ALL PARK FEES WILL GO UP TO PAY FROM THE 3 MILLION THAT PARENT GETS BY A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE STATE OF WISCONSIN,,, anyone know how much is it to swim ,legally ,,in Devils lake???maryrw

        1. Joe S

          Haha, ya know over the past 15 years there have only been 12 rescues at Pewits Nest. And yet everyday hundreds if not thousands are injured in car accidents EACH DAY. But I bet that doesn’t keep you from driving. I guarantee you have a better chance of being killed in a car accident on the way to pewits nest then jumping off the cliffs there. It’s my greatest passion, misunderstood by so many… it’s not being stupid and doing something dangerous. It’s facing death right in the face, and conquering it. I’d rather die this way living a life I choose then having someone else take it away from me in a moving metal box.

          1. maryw

            I guess u didn’t get the part,,,,ITS NOT ABOUT YOU,,”” its about preserving nature for future generations,,,,maryw

  4. Cheri LeMoine

    Fences n stairs will take away from the beauty. I always sat on the cliffs you are going to block off n i have been in peace listening to the birds n watching nature. Wont be the same.

  5. Just a person who goes there everyday to let kids swim in the bottom part so peaceful

    I think its crazy for devils lake has how many deaths and people getting hurt over climbing the rocks but because its pewits nest u have to put up fencing. Its hard to find places for kids to go hiking with family and have a place to cool off. If ur going to do this then put a up fencing at devils lake i call all this bullshit and i understand some get stupid back there but how many go there and dont get hurt. All summer the road over there is packed and sideroad shows many more people go there and not get hurt. Wow please rethink all this

    1. Author

      You are missing the point of environmental damage. Where large numbers of people walking kill native plants and create erosion issues. That the sandstone cliffs are being warned down, etc.. Allowing ppl to destroy the beauty that they are all coming there for seems to make no sense either.

      1. Tara K

        This is an overuse problem. In MT where we lived an area like this would have a small number 6-8 parking spots that when filled would essential close additional use. There were fees for use as I believe it was state area. Signs notified that once full any vehicles parked not in assigned parking stalls would be fined and possible removed. This was a way to have access for public but also have limited damage in doing so. These areas were always clean and there was a respect for use. This would in my opinion be a viable and less costly option-put the funds that would have been spent in fence and use it for enforcement of rules and fines. Just my two cents worth.

      2. Joe S

        But at what rate are the rocks eroding? A research was done at the Badlands in South Dakota (which is naturally eroding at a much faster rate) saying that people leave minimum impact when the walk on trails and such through the sandstone cliffs. And how many people visit the badlands each year over Pewits Nest?

  6. LMT

    Pewitt’s nest hasn’t been taken care of in which the former landowners had hope for. They were great care takers of the land given to them. Their hearts would be sad at how run down, misused it has become. Thanks to all that care about its beauty and want to save it. Many years ago the UW-Madison use to bring buses up to study the rocks and rare plants that grew there. It was an outdoor classroom for college students. Let’s make it beautiful once again.

  7. Dave E.

    My sense is it won’t stop people from jumping over a fence and enforcement no doubt will be a low priority. Quite the dilemma. SNAs need protection. Look at how Parfrey Glen has changed over the years.

  8. Robert

    If that’s what they’re doing just close it . I went for the first time this spring lived around Baraboo most of my life . It’s pretty for sure but if you think stairs and a fence is the way to go just close it

  9. MJ Koch

    Although I have never been there to experience it’s beauty, I know of the numerous accidents requiring rope rescues/medflight calls…one just within the last 2 weeks…endangering personnel to retrieve the injured is reason enough for a fence. People’s past choices have prompted these protective measures—THANK You

  10. John Dominguez

    I discovered Prewits when I was in 5th grade and lived on Gasser road. At the time it was private land and I discovered it after a long day of hiking and playing. It became my place to hang out and enjoy God’s beauty. When the land was sold to the state, I feared my secret place would soon become a hangout for everyone…. Yep and all the junk and misuse followed. I will always hold those memories close to my heart, but will not go back for fear of soiling those memories. At least the state is trying to preserve it now.

    1. maryw

      See that’s what I mean,,its not like the good ole days,,,where I/u would find a tin cup next to a stream,,,,with the internet,,,,everyone knows about pewitts nest,,,,trap camera,,in the parking lots to get liscence plates,,and trap camera around the cliff,,w/ a live feed to the cop shop or dnr,,,that will stop this,,and a 1000.00 fine or public service for anyone caught jumpen,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,maryw

  11. Winnie

    I think these seem like reasonable ideas to try to stop the misuse of the area, however, enforcement is the real issue. I don’t think a few fences and making it a fee area are going to stop the majority of people from using it as they always have. Parfrey’s Glen is a great example of that. When i was younger not having a sticker or a fence NEVER stopped me from exploring, the only thing that did was when a park ranger vehicle was parked around. Consistent enforcement is the only way to change the use of the area. I also think the DNR should be testing the water for pesticide content from the surrounding fields and posting a warning sign if there is contamination to discourage all of the people who like to take their young children swimming there and anyone else who has half a brain.

  12. Randy Clark

    I don’t mind the updates. I understand common sense isn’t common anymore. It will definitely change the look and feel of the place but with soo many people going there it was bound to happen. I never liked the drug abuser’s using the place for a hideout. Its soo very disgraceful to use public area’s like this one to obtain selfish desires of any form. Common curtousy and values have dissolved in our culture with that comes many disheartening realities like fences..

    1. Claytee

      Tony, turn off FOX. Everything is not a conspiracy to take away your rights. This is an unfortunate need due to human ignorance.

  13. H Gasser

    I am a son of the Gasser family that owned Pewits Nest from 1912 until my mother donated the land to the state (short version of its current status). Grew up climbing all over the cliffs in the ’50s and ’60s. Long hiatus, have visited twice in the past two years. Folks, the current condition is deplorable. Of course people are going to climb over fences, just as they ignored the no trespassing signs 50 years ago. Put some teeth into the warnings and limits, if they are enacted. Take people to court, if necessary.

    1. maryw

      I remember being 16,,,,,,there was a stone quarry,MANMADE,,where we would go,,well sure as shit,,1 day,,,the cops waited till there was literally 50 cars back there,,,,and THEY BLOCKED THE ONLY EXIT,ALL GOT TICKETS AND 300.00 FINES,,, in court,,,the judge,,,,literally referred to us as ,,”Swimmer #1`,,Swimer #2,,,etc,,,,,but,,,after dishing out 300.00 bucks,,,of OUR OWN MONEY,,,, not mommy or daddy’s money,,,,our money,,,,,,WE NEVER WENT BACK,,,,,,,, that’s what needsto be done,,,WAIT,,TILL THAT LOT IS FILLED UP,, have dnr + cop,,,1 car,,thats all it took,,,2 cops,,,writing tickets,,that exit is small,,,,if a cop blocks that EXIT,, their is no-way to get out,,give them all tickets to appear in court,,,,,fine them,,,that will stop this,,,quick,,maybe 2hours of a cops time,,and its done,,,,,maryw

        1. maryw

          Guy,,anyone who is swimming over their,,Ive seen them ,,ALL have towels around their necks,,,in swim trunks etc,,,,,A fine for abuseing and behavior that is disruptive to the public,,and breaking the rules of that public place,,yes,,,a fine,,,,,,,mayrw

          1. Joe S

            Also is there any proof or scientific evidence that the cliffs are eroding rapidly due to people walking on them?

        2. Author

          The fine for going into closed areas will be around $175.00 under the new policies. The “public” argument is erroneous. You’d be lucky to find a National Park or even a public building that does not have private areas. This is a public area with closed areas, just like any other.

          As for the commenter above, Parfrey’s (then known as Peewees!) was NOT a public area.. thus the high fines.

  14. Rich

    I understand everyones point of view on this but seriously what gonna stop collage kids or party goes to go their to smoke their green and drink their beer or other things it place I agree that should be preserved but why noylt leave a spot open to,swim and stuff or go fishing with the kids and family things and don’t do,stairs that just gonna make it,look like,it,leads to a playground

  15. Joe S

    Haha, ya know over the past 15 years there have only been 12 rescues at Pewits Nest. And yet everyday hundreds if not thousands are injured and killed in car accidents EACH DAY. But I bet that doesn’t keep you from driving. I guarantee you have a better chance of being killed in a car accident on the way to pewits nest then jumping off the cliffs there. It’s my greatest passion, misunderstood by so many… it’s not being stupid and doing something dangerous. It’s facing death right in the face, and conquering it. I’d rather die this way living a life I choose then having someone else take it away from me in a moving metal box. Look I know most people here live a very different lifestyle then me, but adrenaline is my high. I have never done alcohol or drugs and I never plan on it. If you’re not living your life outside your comfort zone, then what’s the point of living life at all? If I’m not pushing myself to do better then I fall behind and feel my life has no purpose. I’d rather tell my kids and grandkids about my how fun life is rather then tell them they are going to die and destroy nature in the process.

    1. Author

      Joe, I agree with your passion. Having sea kayaked in oceans around the world in some terrifying conditions I completely get your view. That said when it comes to death-defying adventures Pewit’s doesn’t rate a brag. Not even worth writing your mom about. What’s more, it’s a State Natural Area set aside for preservation and research, not a park. The DNR is not even trying to stop swimmers. You will be able to swim under the new rules. You won’t, however, be able to cliff dive, hardly a life-altering restriction.

    2. Theresa

      Joe, if you are an adrenaline junkie, then I have the perfect adrenaline rush for you – contact your nearest Emergency Medical Services or Fire department and ask to join and train to become an EMT and/or Firefighter. It’s the ultimate high without resorting to drugs or alcohol. You can risk your life to save the lives of those who have risked theirs and suffered unfortunate consequences. I guarantee you will look at those 12 rescues from Pewits Nest in a new light and thus understand how the choices you make and the risks you take affect the lives of others. You can receive tactical training in swift & ice water rescue, ropes training & rescue, confined spaces and of course fire training. You want an adrenaline rush? Imagine being woke from a sound sleep to having scramble getting dressed and out the door to jump in a rescue vehicle and arrive on scene within minutes to behold an unimaginable sight before your brain has even cleared itself of its sleepy fog and then suddenly and quickly having to perform precise and often intricate procedures in order to save a life from what may appear to be infinite doom. Just one such rescue is too many. I claim myself to be an adrenaline junkie too, but let me tell you that after being at Pewit’s Nest several times and watching the young and foolish defy death by jumping off the rocks into the pool below or those climbing down rock cliffs without climbing gear and or even proper footwear, my heart was in my throat because I’ve seen what one wrong move can do and how MANY people are affected by it, including me – the EMT. You want to push yourself to do better? Then I challenge you to do it by training and becoming an EMT or Firefighter.

  16. Gregg

    I liked the natural feel of this area. I had never been here before, but found it to be a beautiful place to visit. Too bad it isn’t going to be kept natural without fences and man made structures. I wouldn’t mind paying a small fee, so that staff could be on site during open hours to make sure no one abuses the area. Fences and signs alone are not going to keep people from defacing and destroying the area. I would rather see open hours established with staff and charge a small fee to cover costs of staff in order to keep the area in it’s natural state as much as possible. Fences, signs, and restricted areas always ruin the beauty of a natural area like this and ruins it’s natural beauty.

  17. Kenneth

    I think building the platforms is a great idea. But kids will probably just use them to jump off. At least non jumpers will get a good view of the gorge.

    I share people concerns both that the natural area has been degraded but also those that think that fines, signs, and fences are either pointless or too restrictive.

    In WI we are lucky to have so much land saved in trust as natural or wildlife areas. Considering that Pewit’s Nest is used as a park, why not redesignate as such so it is no longer an SNA. The reason for the preservation of Pewits nest is for its scenic stream gorge, not for its precious plants. Yes plants grow there. Plants also grow on every other plot of land in the state. Pewit’s Nest is popular for human interactions – let’s just admit that and then use it as a way to introduce people to a love of the wonders of nature. A bigger paved parking lot with spaces for busses, paved stone trails, platforms, timber beam fences to keep people on pathways. And then let people be people. If they want to jump then so be it.

    Take a look at Cave Point County Park in Door County or Amnivon Falls State Park, or Eau Claire Dells in Marathon County – all places where people jump from rocks into water. All with paved pathways, paved parking, and viewing platforms. These areas are all working without outcries of degredation from the public. Model Pewits Nest after these successful parks.

  18. maryw

    Thinken out loud here,,,,why can’t one of the ,”richy richs,” from the Dells,,,,make a Fake rock formation at the legal Devils lake,,,,Then to pay for it,,,,have teenagers pay like 15 bucks for the summer plus 4 hours of their time 1 weekend in the summer,,,to help fix trails,building etc,,,in exchange for playing out on the fake rock formation in the legal Devils lake??????Safer that’s for sure,,and,,,u get volunteers to help w/the parks needs???!!!!!!,,,,,,maryw

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