In the 1950s, the federal government bought more than 4,500 acres of farmland west of Kenosha and cleared it for a planned military base. Then, three days before a runway was scheduled to be surfaced, the base was scrapped. Eventually, the state established a multi-use recreation area with a primary focus on conservation. While Bong welcomes horse riders, hang gliders, bikers, cross-country skiers, model-airplane hobbyists, hunters, and others, birders will find lots of wide-open spaces to bird.
The birdier sites around the park include the Vista Picnic Area, the trail near the nature center, the observation tower that overlooks a large wetland and wildlife refuge, the Red Trail, and Wolf Lake on the east side of the park. Audubon recognized Bong as an Important Bird Area in 2005 thanks in part to its significance for grassland birds, including Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Henslow’s, Field, and Savannah Sparrows.
Winter brings Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Northern Shrikes. Short-eared Owls had been reliable in winter, but their numbers seem to be down at Bong over the last couple of years. For most of the year, the wetlands are home to large numbers of egrets and herons, Sandhill Cranes, and ducks, as well as rails and bitterns.
More than 100 species nest at Bong. They include Yellow-breasted Chat, Sora, White-eyed and Bell’s Vireos, and Black Tern. Whether you go in search of certain species, or just to get away from the big city for a while to enjoy a beautiful grassland, you won’t be disappointed by the Bong Rec Area.
More than 250 species. Fall through spring: Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Pine Siskin, American Tree and Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco Winter: Northern Shrike, Common Redpoll. Spring through fall: Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, herons, egrets, Turkey Vulture, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, swallows, House, Sedge, and Marsh Wrens, Chipping, Field, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrows, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Bobolink, Common Yellowthroat. Spring and fall migration: swans, geese, warblers, vireos. Occasional: Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, European Goldfinch, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting.
When to go
Nature center, observation tower, 28 miles of trails for hiking, biking, or skiing.
State recreation area. Open daily 6 am to 11 pm. Enter from Hwy. 42, about 0.8 miles west of Hwy. 75. Vehicle admissions require either a Wisconsin State Parks and Forests pass ($28 in-state, $13 in-state resident age 65-plus, $38 out-of-state) or a daily admission sticker ($8 in-state, $3 in-state resident age 65-plus, $11 out-of-state), either of which may be purchased at entrance gate.
Bring a spotting scope and camera, as well as sunscreen. If you’re looking for an engaging active for young kids, check out the park’s Nature Explore Classroom, an outdoor child-centered free-place space.