From jet fighter base to bird sanctuary, Richard Bong State Recreation Area is the park that almost wasn’t. Named for Major Richard Bong, Wisconsin’s own American air hero, it’s fitting that the park almost operated as a jet fighter base between metro Milwaukee and Chicago areas. And when I say almost, I mean 72 hours. Three days before the concrete of the 12,500 foot runway was set to be poured, the project was nixed.
Who was Richard Bong? Major Richard Bong was known as the “Ace of Aces” for his spot as the top flying ace during WWII. He is credited with the downing of a confirmed 40 enemy aircraft during his fighter pilot career. In December 1944, he received the medal of honor from General Douglas MacArthur. What a cool way to honor this local man.
This park is a state recreation area rather than a state park and boy, does it live up to the name. The park’s website lists a whole host of activities, including ATV/UTV, biking, boating/kayaking, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, off-highway motorcycles, picnicking, swimming, training hunting dogs/sled dogs/falcons, horse riding, and winter activities. The list also contains a “special use zone” which, upon further inspection, is it’s own list of potential air activities, including flying model air planes, rockets, hang gliders, and hot air balloons. The area that was flattened for construction of the runway remains for use of smaller recreational craft. Seriously, what can’t you do at this place!
I left my falcon at home for this trip as he needed a break from all his training, so we primarily focused on hiking and camping. (I joke, but how cool could that be.)
Let’s start with hiking. Richard Bong SRA has 8 trails spanning 16 miles while traversing through a variety of habitats and terrain. Trails are grouped by their locations, north of highway 142 and south of highway 142. Unfortunately for us, weather was not on our side this trip and we only covered two trails. I guess I’ll have to make a return trip to cover more!
Length: 1.8 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderately easy
Description: This trail begins with a boardwalk, travels through a restored prairie, and ends with fantastic views of Wolf Lake
The green trail can be accessed the parking lot at Trailhead B, just past the entrance station.
The trail begins by crossing the area between two small ponds on a boardwalk. This hike took place in late summer when the cattails were high.
Part of the boardwalk extends into the pond and offers a great place to birdwatch.
We were lucky enough to see an egret perched above the water.
After crossing the ponds, the trail continues into the restored prairie. At certain times of the year, this is the place to be (for wildflowers and bees)
Wildflowers and bees! Everywhere!
Writing this in cold rainy April, these pictures are making me miss the colors of summer.
After reaching the section of the loop furthest from the trailhead, the trail curves back and runs just north of the lake. Enjoy glimpses of the lake as you travel back towards the trailhead.
150 acre, 12 foot deep, Wolf Lake is named from longtime SRA volunteer, Vern Wolf.
This friend paused and posed on the trail. Or maybe it was more frozen in fear. The dog was very interested in him after all.
I felt a little weird taking a picture of someone’s memorial bench, but I genuinely love this and it brought me a lot of joy, much like Alex must have brought to those around him in life.
After passing the lake, you have the option to continue back to the trailhead or hop on the longer blue trail to extend your adventure.
Vista Nature Trail
Length: 1 mile loop
Description: This flat, quiet trail loops through a hardwood forest and overlooks a small pond
To access this trail, exit the park and drive the short distance to highway B. There is a small parking lot off the highway.
The trail is wide, flat, quiet, and peaceful as it winds through the woods. The park website states that this trail is one of less-used trails, which makes it a great spot to get away and listen to nature.
Large, beautiful trees line this trail.
Enjoy the small, calm pond before turning back towards the trailhead.
While I only got to sample a small portion of the park and the trails, I really like the space and what it offers. There’s something about a large natural area where people can engage in their various hobbies and passions while connecting with nature. I will absolutely return to this park, there’s so much to see and do!