Managing ‘Rabbitat” – Rabbit Habitat – at Riveredge Nature Center

At Riveredge, we’re continually working to create a more robust habitat for native and migratory species. How can we best do that? Generally by making sure that we’ve planted the plants and trees that supply the sustenance and cover needed by wildlife. One species that generally doesn’t need much help is the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus). As the old adage goes, rabbits are pretty quick to procreate, and providing habitat for rabbits, or ‘rabbitat’ as the Riveredge Land Manager likes to call it, can have consequences for other plant and animal species across the property.

Ideal rabbitat is a small pile of branches and brush to hide for cover and near healthy trees and plants for rabbits to eat.

Generally, when safely cutting down a tree, the most time is spent surveying the way a tree is leans, the direction of the wind, where its heaviest branches exist, and other factors.

Rabbits have a voracious appetite, and can mow down crops of plants year-round, sometimes including uncommon species we’re working to proliferate throughout the property. As much as we might expect they wouldn’t affect trees standing tall in the forest, just a few inches from the ground rabbits can permanently injure a tree. Rabbits will nibble around the circumference of a tree, the term used for this behavior is “girdling.” Beavers are more well known for this practice, as a beaver gnawing into a tree is much more obvious. Rabbits, however, can have the same negative impact on individual trees but don’t provide the same ecosystem benefits beavers do.

In certain spaces across the property we’ll create rabbitat, while in others we’ll actively discourage it. One of the easiest ways to discourage rabbitat is to burn excess brush. Why wouldn’t we burn it in all circumstances? Some areas of the property wouldn’t respond as well to a fire, or it’s located near a habitat or location that isn’t very fire resilient. Buildings, in certain instances, for example.

Riveredge staff and volunteers work together on a prescribed burn of common brush rabbitat.

Part of our ongoing challenge is to manage and conserve these 379 acres of habitat in a way that benefits the most native and migratory species possible. Sometimes people will say, “Conserve it? What’s to conserve – it’s already a part of Riveredge!” A good parallel is to imagine a typical lawn. A person probably cuts their lawn once or twice a week in summertime. Now imagine your lawn is 379 acres of various forests, prairies, creeks, wetlands, ponds, and rising or lowering water along the river banks. That’s a lot of space to maintain and conserve. We’re continually exploring the most effective methods to provide habitat for vulnerable populations while working to thwart invasive species encroachment. Restoring and conserving the Riveredge property is indeed an ongoing project, and one in which we lovingly engage.

When taking down the trees in the above video, we left some rabbitat on the other side of our storage barn. Burning off all these branches and stumps near a 100-year-old wood barn – even surrounded by snow – wouldn’t be a smart plan. Hosting some rabbitat isn’t all bad, though. Small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels unintentionally provide sustenance for many of animals we enjoy watching in the wild, such as hawks, owls, eagles, and even foxes, coyotes, and weasels. To eradicate all rabbitat would force these charismatic raptors and mammals to go elsewhere for their prey. Additionally, these large branches have made beautiful habitat for other creatures spending time at Riveredge Nature Center…

Member Guide to Winter at Riveredge

Trail Update January 30, 2020

With Sunday night snow our trails are in fantastic shape! Come visit for an adventure with your skis or snowshoes – we also have snowshoes for rent. All Access Riveredge members are able to check out snowshoes for free! Join us for our Friday Night Candle-lit Hike.

Winter Trails

Winter provides exciting exploration opportunities, as some of the vulnerable trail areas that are otherwise off-limits to foot trafffic are able to be explored once the ground is frozen (see trail map below). We ask that anyone wearing boots or snowshoes walk on either side of identified ski trails in wintertime. Our trails are plenty wide, offering space for everyone to explore in their preferred manner. Trail conditions  are checked by Riveredge staff on a regular basis. Consult the Visitor’s Center for suggested trails and current snow conditions.

Checking out Snowshoes

At Riveredge, snowshoes are free for All Access Members to checkout for use on the Riveredge property and are able to be checked out when we have in excess of 6 inches of new fluffy snow or 4 inches of packed snow. Without sufficient snow, snowshoes will be damaged by digging into the gravel beneath the snow (plus it would probably be easier in boots anyway). Snowshoes are checked out on a first come, first served basis, and can be reserved ahead of time for events. Please affix snowshoes to your boots outside at the head of the trail; do not walk in snowshoes indoors or on brick, gravel, or wooden structures such as the back deck as this damages both the surface and the snowshoes. Snowshoes are available for checkout and must be returned before the building closes and for special events when the building is open (such as Friday Night Candle-lit Hikes).

Pop Up Hours

The Riveredge Visitor Center is generally closed on Saturdays and Sundays in winter, however if we have a decent snowfall and anticipate people having interest in checking out snowshoes, we will have weekend pop-up hours in the Visitor Center.

Winter Trail Map

Welcome to The New River Outpost!


The River Outpost opens Friday, September 20!

The River Outpost provides an educational and support facility near the bank of the Milwaukee River, as well as a Watershed Interactive Table to support water quality citizen science efforts, the Lake Sturgeon restoration project, and educational programs for youth and adults. The goal of this exciting, new space is to serve as a watershed education hub for the Milwaukee River through education, river interaction experiences, and restoring Lake Sturgeon to local waterways.

Vital Community Partners

Students of The Riveredge School explore along the Milwaukee River.

The River Outpost was made possible by significant generous gifts from both West Bend Mutual Insurance Company and the Fund For Lake Michigan, as well as other generous community donors. Riveredge is fortunate to partner with community partners that value watershed education and protecting our local resources, including the Milwaukee River, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. These partners appreciate the impact of human land and water use on the ecosystems we all share.

River Outpost Celebration

To celebrate the opening of The River Outpost, Riveredge Nature Center is hosting a Community Celebration on Friday, September 20 from 4:00pm – 7:00pm, featuring a classic Wisconsin Friday Night Perch Fry (tickets for perch fry or baked cod dinners must be purchased in advance) and a live performance from Polka Fusion. Guests can explore the new facility, discover water critters in the Milwaukee River and through microscopes in the classroom, experience the watershed interactive technology table, sculpt artwork alongside the resident River Outpost artist Sally Duback, wander the Milwaukee River trails, and more. 

The River Outpost will be a hub for Milwaukee River and water quality education for all ages.

Additionally, everyone in attendance can meet the young Lake Sturgeon being raised in the Sturgeon Trailer that will be released into Lake Michigan during Sturgeon Fest on Saturday, September 28 at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee. 

The River Outpost Location

Comprising 379 acres of wild Wisconsin, Riveredge has been working to increase its educational impacts with facilities that are usable in all four seasons, while identifying building sites that won’t negatively affect habitat. The River Outpost is located in a previously disturbed building site near the Milwaukee River, providing optimum proximity for guest experience without impacting existing flora and fauna.

Riveredge Announces Artist Sally Duback for River Outpost Artwork

Original architectural rendering of The River Outpost facility at Riveredge Nature Center.

Riveredge Nature Center has selected Mequon-based artist Sally Duback to create community-based artwork for display surrounding its new River Outpost Building. Duback has spent the last 30 years creating her own artworks, as well as engaging in community art collaborations throughout the region. Some of her prior community-based artworks can be seen at Virmond Park, the Niederkorn Public Library, Prairie Springs Environmental Education Center, Messmer Elementary School, and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Artist Sally Duback

For this project, community participants are invited to mold and paint clay artworks that relate to their experiences with the Milwaukee River and Watershed, which Duback will then fire, arrange, and incorporate into sculptural pieces to be installed permanently near the River Outpost Building. “I am so pleased to have the opportunity to create this work with the Riveredge community and to engage participants in the project as a visual conversation about the Milwaukee River watershed. Any time I am able to create a work of public art that deals with environmental issues is a win/win for me,” said Duback.

A recent collaborative community artwork by Sally Duback, on display in Virmond Park.

This opportunity takes place through a Mary L. Nohl grant awarded to Riveredge to create and display community-based artworks at its River Outpost facility, the focus of which is water-related education. The Mary L. Nohl Fund, among the largest funds created at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, invests in local arts education programs and projects.

Upcoming Public Community Art Engagement Events

Riveredge and Duback welcome people to participate in creating artworks during community events, and which can eventually be displayed along Riveredge’s Milwaukee River trails.

Currently scheduled events include the following dates and locations:

River Outpost Celebration at Riveredge | Friday, September 20

Sturgeon Fest in Milwaukee’s Lakeshore State Park | Saturday, September 28

Music in the Mushroom – A Historic Riverside Celebration at Riveredge | Saturday, October 12

Woodland Pattern Book Center | Saturday, November 9 at 2:00pm