Winnebago Audubon Society logo

Environmental Education

  • Sullivan's Woods
  • History of Sullivan's Woods
  • Oshkosh-Larsen Trail Prairies
  • Salamander Survey
  • Frank Zuern Obituary



     During fall of 2016 close to 650 5th grade students from the Oshkosh Area School District experienced an environmental education day at Sullivan’s Woods.  For the past 30+ years Winnebago Audubon members have volunteered to guide the students and assist with their assignments.  Thanks to all the following people who donated their time and experience: Coordinator - Zaiga Freivalds, Carolyn Blassingame, Rebecca Eyer, Pam and Larry Lang, Linda Loker, Lisa Minew, Jaci Mueller, Dave Moon, Jerry Schaefer, Jean Snowhook, Barb Urbrock.

     More volunteers are urgently needed, for both the spring and fall, as many of our older “Friends” are no longer able to walk the trails.  Teaching experience is not necessary as you can learn by shadowing a veteran guide.  For more info call Zaiga Freivalds at 233-5914.

HISTORY OF SULLIVAN'S WOODS                                          

         By Katherine D. Rill,

         August 12, 2002

     In pre-settlement times, native prairies and oak openings were present in the part of Winnebago County where Sullivan’s Woods is now located. The idea to plant a prairie was conceived by Winnebago Audubon Society and The Friends of Sullivan’s Woods in 1988 with the encouragement of Ray Wachholz, Environmental Coordinator of the Oshkosh Area School District.

     An open area of approximately one acre of mostly reed canary grass was selected to establish a prairie. The goal was to plant prairie grasses and forbs to give students some idea of what a prairie looked like in the early days and acquaint them with some of the plants that may have been present.

     To oversee the project, The Don Vorpahl Landscape/Environmental Planners was hired. Audubon members were told the first challenge would be to get rid of the reed canary grass and other weedy species before preparing the soil for planting. Using the herbicide Roundup was the recommended approach, but there were concerns about its use. Consultant Don Vorpahl said that the job could be done without an herbicide but that hand pulling weeds and a regime of plowing and waiting for weed seeds to sprout between plowings would be necessary. Members were willing to take this approach even though it involved more work. He suggested a three till, multiple-harrow plan, supplemented by hand raking and weed removal at each stage with a final goal on planting day of having a firm seed bed with fine textured soil as free of weeds and weed seeds as possible. This plan was implemented and willing volunteers spent many hours removing weeds. On the day of the actual planting, July 8, 1989, a group of volunteers hand planted forbs and grass seedlings and broadcast other seeds. Then all that was necessary was to wait for nature to do its work.

     In order for a prairie to continue to grow in Wisconsin on the prairie/forest border, shrubs and trees that will encroach must be eliminated. Prairies remained open in pre-settlement times because of fires caused by lightning or fires set by Indians to aid their hunting and agriculture. What this meant, was that periodically, the prairie must be burned. This was done initially in consultation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and later burns were carried out by The Friends of Sullivan’s Woods.

     Since 1988, the Sullivan’s Woods prairie has matured into a creditable example of the original prairies and is a valuable teaching tool for Oshkosh Area School District students.




Oshkosh-Larson Trail Prairies are found on the Wiouwash Recreation Trail and designated as a State Natural Area.

  • These prairies are located in a series of 4 separate remnants within a 4 mile segment of a former railroad right-of-way.  The trail has become popular for walking, running and biking.  But, not many of the users know the important prairie plants that reside in these protected areas.
  • Winnebago Audubon is playing a role in the education, maintanance and management of this State Natural Area.  As with most prairies, fires and brush control are necessary to limit succession to encourage the noteworthy grasses and forbs. 
  • Notable Grasses:  Little blue-stem,  Indian grass,  Prairie drop-seed,  Cord grass
  • Notable Forbs:  Shooting star,  Blazing star,  Downy phlox,  White-lettuce,  Mountain mint,  Compass plant,  Prairie-dock,  Valerian
  • Colorful Autumn Plants:  Riddell's goldenrod,  Heath aster,  Sunflowers,  Stiff goldenrod,  Downy gentian
  • Winnebago Audubon will continue to schedule work parties for shrub cutting and stump treating to control non-native and invasive species to encourage prairie plants.
  • Winnebago Audubon will conduct field trips throughout the seasons to identify prairie plants and help educate the public as to the value of this State Natural Area.
  • Work day on the Oshkosh-Larson Prairie on the Wiouwash Recreation Trail near County Road GG in November 2008.

  • Field trip to educate and appreciate what the Oshkosh-Larson Trail Prairie has to offer the public.


 Wisconsin’s First Salamander Survey

   The Wisconsin Audubon Council, Inc. (WAC,) a coalition of the state’s 14 independent chapters and two National Audubon centers, received a grant from the Citizen-Based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin in August 2007 to coordinate a statewide survey of salamanders. Herpetology experts with the WDNR and state universities are guiding this effort. Members of Wisconsin Audubon chapters will serve as citizen monitors. Four Winnebago Audubon families have volunteered to participate.

   Each volunteer family will be advised when to place their five live traps in a local breeding pond based on criteria provided. Volunteers will check the traps daily over a one-week period, probably in early April, and enter their catch results on a data sheet. There will be a second period in early July when they will be asked to place their traps again for 6 consecutive days. 

   Wisconsin has seven salamander species. The survey focuses on four species that breed in shallow woodland pools: the tiger, spotted and blue-spotted salamanders and the central newt. This survey brings attention to these secretive creatures, gives wildlife managers’ much-needed distribution data, and promotes the value of wetlands and woodland pools.

   According to Randy Korb, WAC president and project director, monitors will receive web-based training, receive data sheets and materials to build their traps before the survey begins in early April 2008.


Frank Zuern, longtime chapter member, was an inspiration to many and a zealous advocate for the environment

We thank Frank and his family for suggesting Winnebago Audubon as a recipient of memorials in his name. Memorials to Frank may be made by mail and checks made payable to: Winnebago Audubon, PO Box 184, Oshkosh, WI 54903.  Thank you.

    Frank A Zuern, age 90 of Oshkosh, passed away on Monday, August 21, 2017 at La ke Pointe Villa with family by his side. He was born on July 1, 1927 in Pembine, WI the son of the late Arthur and Clara (Wenk) Zuern. Frank grew up on the farm and spent his boyhood exploring their woods and fields, where he developed his deep love of nature. Frank attended a one-room schoolhouse, and from there he went on to Pembine High School graduating as Valedictorian Class of 1945. At 17, he enlisted and proudly served our country in the Coast Guard where he had a chance to see the world. Frank later went to school on the GI Bill and received both his undergraduate and Master's Degree from UW-Madison for education. He taught school in Dunbar, Lake Geneva, Madison and then moved to Oshkosh where he continued with the career he loved, teaching children. He was a teacher and principal at Oaklawn, Winnebago, Smith, Green Meadow and Washington Elementary schools for 38 years. He also served as the Director of Outdoor Education for Oshkosh Public Schools and was very proud of his involvement in the acquisition of Sullivan's Woods Nature Area.

     Frank had many interests, most of which revolved around nature and the environment. He designed The Tree Branch Bluebird House and maintained bluebird houses and trails throughout the state. He was very proud of his help with the resurgence of the bluebirds here in the state. Some organizations he was involved in and favorite hobbies include: Audubon Society, Winnebago County Conservation Club, Sons of Norway, volunteer guide for hundreds of field trips to Sullivan's Woods, a skilled wood carver of all types of birds. He was a passionate crusader for all of God's creatures and creations. Frank was a member of First English Lutheran Church for 62 years and loved to sing in the church choir, often inventing his own tune. He had a love of music and even learned how to play the violin when he was 80 years old!

    Frank was united in marriage to Jane Bach at Porterfield Lutheran Church on August 26, 1950 and was very proud to say he had been married for 67 years! He was a loving husband and devoted father. He relished his role as grandpa and spent the last 33 years telling stories and sharing his love for the environment with all of them. He was a poet, an artist and prolific writer, and just finished publishing his first book, in May, about his adventures growing up as a farmboy in the North Woods. He was compassionate and caring and never afraid to take on a challenge.

     Frank is survived by his beloved wife, Jane, three daughters: Julie (John) Kita, Connie (Steve) Seidl, Laurie (Dean) Jenson; seven grandchildren: Kevin, Alex and Kyle Kita, Benjamin and Elizabeth Seidl, Trevor and Audra Jenson; further survived by two brothers-in-law. He was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, Harry (Harriet) Zuern.

     Funeral Services will take place at 11:00 am on Friday, August 25, 2017 at First English Lutheran Church, 1013 Minnesota Street, with Pastor Tim Greenwald Officiating. Visitation for friends and family will be at the church from 9:30 am until the time of service. Interment will take place at Ellenwood Cemetery, Oshkosh.

     In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Pembine High School Scholarship Foundation or Winnebago Audubon Society would meet Frank's approval.

     The Family would like to thank all of the wonderful care he received during the past three years from his doctors, caregivers and friends who were compassionate and always went the extra mile. A special thank you to Jenny who brought the world to him as he began to show his age.