Searles Creek

Quick Facts

Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC-12): 070900040601

Area: 19.9 square miles (12,763 acres); 7% of Lower Sugar River Watershed

County: Green County/Sylvester, Decatur and Mount Pleasant Townships

Primary Land Uses: Agriculture (cropland 58%, pasture/hay 28% of landcover/2011)

Points of Interest:

Siting of 5800 head dairy cow concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), Pinnacle Dairy, LLC in Sylvester Township on Decatur-Sylvester Road was approved by WDNR on April 25th, 2018. To view the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit click here

Hanging Rock and Easter Rock.

Oliver Prairie State Natural Area is the only Natural Area in this subwatershed.

Water Quality:  Impaired -  303d listed for habitat destruction and sedimentation.

At a Glance

  • Searles Creek, 10.3 miles, flows eastwardly draining a flat-bottomed basin and empties into the northern end of Decatur Lake, an impounded lake formed by the damning of the Sugar River in the mid 1800’s.
  • Segments of Searles Creek have been ditched and straightened to enhance drainage and to increase plowing efficiency. In some reaches the creek’s edge is buffered by trees and vegetation while other reaches are grazed right down to its edge.
  • At riffles and runs, WDNR biologists have noted that the creek bottom consist of 60% silt and clay, a poor fishery habitat.
  • The creek has been placed on the state’s list of impaired [section 303(d)] waters because of habitat destruction and sedimentation. Heavily tilled cropland lacking buffers and banks eroded by grazing animals are heavy contributors to its demise.

Learn More

What does it mean for a body of water to be 303(d) listed? Waters listed in Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act do not meet their designated uses (fishing and swimming) and must be listed. Searles Creek’s total maximum load (TMDL) for sediment was determined in 2005. TMDL refers to the amount of pollutant, in this case sediment, that the water can assimilate and not exceed water quality standards. 


The stream for the most part is heavily silted; however, it is possible to paddle from the northern end of Decatur Lake to beyond Park Road bridge where its banks are nicely wooded. Two rock formations, Hanging Rock and Easter Rock about half mile or so from Park Road bridge were frequented by locals many years ago. Hanging Rock, a large boulder juts from the stream's south side bank which is quite rocky and steep. Easter Rock, a large flat rock further west and around a bend is on the north side of the stream. Today, these rocks are largely inaccessible by paddling or by hiking. The usual low water level of Searles Creek prevents navigation and posted land along both sides of the stream prevents overland accessibility unless landowner permission is granted.

Biking the country roads transversing the rolling hills and valleys of this subwatershed (as well as others) will give you plenty of exercise and pastoral views.

Oliver Prairie State Natural Area  Located off Oliver Road it is very small undisturbed remnant dry prairie containing more than 70 prairie species. To access this gem contact the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum at   (608) 263-7344.

Did You Know?

In the not too distant past, Searles Creek was known as Jordan Creek or Little Jordan Creek. Seems there were two creeks in the vicinity with the same name so one had to be changed to avoid confusion.

Currently the Creek is being monitored at four locations by Water Action Volunteers (WAV). Results can be found elsewhere on our website.

For a printable PDF map of Searles Creek Subwatershed click here.


2011 National Landcover Database:

Camping on the Sugar River, written by J.D Carroll in 1931. 

Brodhead Free Press, Vol. 6, NO’s. 30 (10/29/14), 31(11/5/2014), 32 (11/12/2014), Looking  back at the history of the Brodhead Mill Race by Carol Gombar
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