By Andrew Lehn —
This year marks the 25th year of the Devil’s Punchbowl as a scientific study area, but its history goes much further back. Located south of the University of Wisconsin–Stout and a little north of Irvington, the miniature ecosystem with its cliffs and waterfalls has a long and complex history of ownership and hardship.
The geological formations story started about 500 million years ago, when sea deposits laid down what would become the sandstone that can be seen today. More recently—about 10,000 years ago—glacial melting started carving away at the stone, shaping the area into something similar to what is there now. Add in underground springs as well as many years of rainfall and melting snow, and you have the Devil’s Punchbowl.
The history of the Punchbowl’s name and ownership is almost as complex. The first official name for the area was Black’s Ravine, named after Samuel Black, a Civil War captain and the first owner of the land. Soon after his private ownership, the land was given to Menomonie, which then gave it to Dunn County. At one point the area was even owned by Stout. Somewhere along the way Black’s Ravine was made public and became known as Paradise Valley, which became the namesake for the road leading to the Punchbowl. Sometime after that it was given the name Devil’s Punchbowl, and it has stuck. The origin of the name is unknown; possible explanations include the Stout mascot or influence from other popular geological formations such as Devil’s Tower. Currently the Punchbowl is owned by the West Wisconsin Land Trust (WWLT).
The Devil’s Punchbowl is now protected as a scientific study area due to its rare flora as well as its unique geological makeup, but this was not always the case. The Punchbowl has a longer history as a meeting place for parties and group gatherings, going back to even before the Black’s Ravine days. In the past it also suffered from storms, floods and erosion. Many have stepped up to preserve the location’s beauty and diversity. The WWLT put up retaining walls to prevent further erosion and Stout’s very own GreenSense has mounted many efforts to clean up those past parties. The Wisconsin Conservation Corps constructed the wooden stairs that necessarily replaced the treacherous and broken concrete stairs.
As it continues to get warmer the Devil’s Punchbowl should lose its arctic colors for nice shades of springtime green. Thanks to the efforts of those mentioned above and on the bronze plaque that will greet you at its entrance, the Punchbowl should stay an awesome and educational landmark for many years to come. When you visit the natural beauty, remember to enjoy it, as well as to preserve it.