Coping With Damage At Parfrey’s Glen

Coping With Damage At Parfrey’s Glen

If you haven’t been to Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area in awhile, have a look at these photos. The amount of damage done by folks avoiding mud puddles and climbing up around the hills and over the cliffs is extraordinary this year.

Last week I had an opportunity to see the damage first hand. At this juncture, I’m going to avoid putting my personal comments here. What I do want to do is share with you what is going on.

You see Parfrey’s Glen is over-run on weekends. While most visitors are staying on the trail or walking the stream (As is current policy) a number of people are going off the tail, climbing the cliffs and stampeding around the waterfall. I use the word stampeding because as you see, the land has been denuded around the falls. There is nothing left but mud, rocks and a few trees that so far have survived the compression of the earth around them. Many won’t survive soil compression long term.

Erosion & Compression Damage

Normally this sort of overuse is a problem anyway, but the wet season has made these behaviors exponentially more damaging. Walking on wet, muddy soil damages the plants and compacts the earth much faster than if it were dry. The slope next to Parfrey’s Glen’s waterfall was badly damaged already, now it’s just sad to see. Other areas where people have walked around puddles along the trail are now just wide areas of compacted mud where nothing will grow for years without help. Some denuded sections are 10 feet wide or more!

In addition to this, much of the volunteer work done in the spring has been ignored, walked over and sometimes even removed completely. Signs put up to close social trails have been taken down and walked around. In fact, the sign marking the end of the “Maintained Trail” was stolen for the second time in May! (It was not again replaced.) Recently people even had a campfire on top of the cliffs above the glen.

Fire at Parfrey's Glen SNA

Devil’s Lake State Park is putting staff back into the glen Friday to see what can be done in a day. Of course, they have another 10,000 acres to maintain beyond Parfrey’s and can only accomplish so much. The DNR has to take a fresh look at these issues. They’ve started moving on Pewit’s Nest SNA which suffered many of the same problems. While continuing to work on Pewit’s Nest, they also need to be mindful of the legacy of Parfrey’s Glen, Wisconsin’s first designated state natural area. Parfrey’s Glen needs some real infrastructure. There’s only so much people can do by moving wood around and posting signs.

Another View - Parfrey's Glen

If you care about the state of Parfrey’s Glen, you know the drill. First, volunteer your time…, then call, email, complain, suggest, cajole, commiserate, whatever and with whomever it takes to make a change. I’d start here and enter “State Natural Areas”. You’ll get a whole list of folks who are involved. But please, keep in mind that many of these folks DO want to help. What they often need is a bit of back up!

Personally, I’m going to volunteer some more time to redo the work we did in the spring and see if we can’t somehow make sure Parfrey’s Glen is a place the next generation will still actually want to see.


And to everyone who volunteers around here, we are making headway. Next week I’ll post some wonderful before and after shots of the work we’ve done around Devil’s Lake this year. We are making a difference!


***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. maryw

    We were just thinken on going there this week=end,,,,not anymore,,,,Can people swim there???thee only reason I ask,,,is we were hiking on the trails at Devils lake,,,and ran into about 8 people who said they were looking for a new place to swim w/their dogs,,,since pewitts nest is now closed,,,,just wondering if our youngsters are using parfeys glenn the same way pewitts nest was abused???don’t know,,,have never bin to parfeys glenn,,which is why were were thinken on going there this weekend??maryw

  2. Author

    It’s complicated.

    1. Dogs are NOT allowed at Parfrey’s Glen.
    2. People are permitted to walk in the stream. It’s the only way to get back into the gorge since there are no longer any trails.
    3. Park Staff just cleared out the pool below the waterfall and it is now marked as a closed area. People can take photos but should stay out of the pool. They are also not to climb the cliffs.

    That said, with no enforcement, there are no rules….

    1. Joe salemi

      So it looks to me that in addition to over use weekend problem, there a problems with night use as evidenced by the big campfire.
      It would seem that catching the campfire people just once would put a stop
      To it as it could very well be just a group of friends.
      Of course this would an extended effort by law enforcement.
      Is there a community policing program out there where citizens are trained and LE has a way of to their efforts. These programs have to be effective for all
      Sorts of problems.

      1. Author

        Education and Enforcement have to happen. Right now, there is neither. The Devil’s Lake SP friends are not very active in caring for the park and certainly not involved in Parfrey’s Glen. We actually do have a clear set of plans including volunteer “docents” or educators on site during peak weekend hours. Now, if we can get the volunteers and the cooperation from the powers that be?? We’ll see.

  3. Pat Bullard

    I have not been to Parfrey’s Glen since 2005 and am sad to see what is happening to that beautiful place. Tourism and respect for the natural environment gets complicated.

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