A Natural Heritage

What’s the Driftless? It has nothing to do with snow. It’s the word geologists use for terrain beyond the reach of a glacier’s advance. At the end of the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago, the giant ice sheets retreating from the upper Midwest left untouched a large area of southwestern Wisconsin, with its distinctive natural landscape of ridges and bluffs carved from sedimentary rock, meandering valleys and spring-fed creeks, expansive plateaus, and now a deep cover of rich topsoil swept by high winds from the glacier’s heights. This geographic region, which extends into Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, is today known as The Driftless Area.

Northwestern Dane County, located at the glacier’s point of maximum advance southward and further defined by a sprawling pre-glacial watershed connecting the ice’s terminal moraine northwest to the lower Wisconsin River valley, is a natural gateway to the larger Driftless region. To the Gateway area, as the glacier retreated and the climate moderated, came new life–initially vegetation,  then animals and other fauna, and finally various peoples over time, all attracted by the rich natural resources and ease of movement here. Communities grew and flourished around these natural resources, primarily agricultural settlements but in recent years sharing a blossoming interest in enjoying the natural landscape for many forms of outdoor recreation as well.

The Gateway to The Driftless is one of many local organizations dedicated to celebrating this many-chaptered story and the natural and human resources that have contributed to our area’s rich community heritage  and exceptional quality of life. The Gateway project looks forward to working with many others in our community in the telling and enhancing of this unique and important story.

The state and county historical markers on our Interactive Map are a good starting point for your own exploration of the Gateway’s place in the Driftless. Here is a basic selection of links to other online resources :

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey

Wisconsin Historical Society

Dane County Historical Society

Mazomanie Historical Society

Black Earth Historical Society

Cross Plains-Berry Historical Society

Blue Mounds Area Project

Driftless Historium

Ice Age Trail Alliance

Swamplovers Foundation

The Prairie Enthusiasts

National Park Service

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