The Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin and eastern Iowa is known for its lack of glacial smoothing. Drummonds, eskers, bogs, and kettle moraines, the features that make the rest of Wisconsin notable, are non-existent here. Without glaciation, we have been left with eluvial and rain-cut valleys and the uplands that harbor them. Rocky outcroppings abound as the rich soils make their way into the valley. Otter Creek Arts has 250 feet in elevation change from the front cedar-planted “bottoms” to the steep rocky overlook rising above the hardwoods.
We knew immediately that this piece of land in the Union Valley was a special place, a place rich with geological and human history. Otter Creek Arts resides on 150 acres of very diverse geography where oak savannah covered hills once looked over spring-fed wet grasslands. Farms then proliferated the area during the 1800s. We are still excavating the history of the land, the farm, the people and structures involved, not alone from the ground and records, but from the minds and memories of locals.
In 1960, this property went through an eco-transformation. With a DNR consultant, the then-owners planted tens of thousands of red and white pine seedlings to create an eighty-acre tree farm. We have continued this program and are registered as a renewable resource forest. We also have been pro-active in creating updates to our forest-management program in the form of grants to fight the invasive species that have invaded the hardwood forests here. Additionally, in the fall of 2006, we thinned the pine plantation to let in light, create more mid-story growth and eventually help restore the forest understory. We mandated that the cutting be in a random manner to create a more natural look to the forest (i.e., erase row plantings), as our goals here are aesthetic as well as ecological.
The area’s creeks are legend among fly fishermen and Otter Creek is well known. Otter Creek meanders for about 3/4 of a mile through the wetlands and forest of the property. Helping to feed Otter Creek are two smaller spring-fed creeks that wind and loop until they join the Otter at a picturesque oxbow and confluence. It is a very complex eco-system and we are continually garnering knowledge about it.
The bottom line is that even with all of these ongoing endeavors, the land on which Otter Creek Arts sits is a peaceful refuge. It has become both an inspiration in its beauty and created a passion in us for understanding more about the physical world we live in---how it affects us and we affect it. This place and the ideas it’s spawned have influenced our art, our relationship, and our idea of what it is to be human. In a few paragraphs we cannot begin to describe the sense of peace and wonder this land brings to us. We can only invite you to visit our humble corner of existence where we are attempting to make a difference in how we think and live.