Pheasant Branch Conservancy is a very attractive conservancy project that features a peaceful and natural little bit of everything for hikers and visitors: a fantastic view of Madison and the Capitol; restored prairie and wetlands, a big spring, and a mixed-forest hike along a creek that wends back and forth over the trail in dozens of places. The scenery: prairie, oak savanna, wetlands running water, springs, and mixed forest.
The village of Pheasant Branch was a stagecoach stop back in 1847 near what is presently Century Avenue. The Stamm House, where travelers might spend the night or fill their stomachs on their way to and fro myriad points, is still there and operating. Much of what is here now – generously preserved in the conservancy -was once converted to agricultural land. As Middleton expanded and developed land, the runoff water also increased. The little Pheasant Branch Creek became overwhelmed and started putting too much sediment into Lake Mendota. The municipality redirected the creek in 1970, through the marshes seen today; much of that sediment and the pollutants in the runoff can be filtered before the creek empties into the lake.
From the Orchard Heights Park trailhead, start south on asphalt through a mellow recreational park. To your right you can see ponds and marshland popular for migrating birds in the spring and fall. The unshaded path is shared with bicyclists. At 500 feet pass a transformer station. Beyond this the field is not mowed. You see oaks to the left and prairie to the right. Look for hawks and field birds. Pheasant Branch Conservancy is the perfect summer, fall, or late spring hike, walk, or jog. The scenery is always changing, so monthly visits are mandatory.
From the intersection of CR M and CR Q in Middleton, go north 0.4 miles on CR Q to Rolling Hill Drive and turn left. Take the first right 300 feet later on Larkspur Road. Follow this to its end less than 0.2 miles and turn right on Valley Ridge Road. Go 500 feet and take the first left on Sedge Meadow Road. Cross two speed bumps and take the first left, which is the entrance to the parking lot at Orchid Heights Park. The trailhead is at the map board near the restrooms.