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Great Lakes: State sets aside 8 natural areas

Move protects environmentally sensitive lands

By Peter Rebhahn
Green Bay Gazette

What’s next

The state will designate eight new natural areas in Door and Brown counties in a ceremony at 11 a.m. today at Ellison Bluff County Park in Door County. More information about the state’s Natural Areas Program is online at

Natural areas to be protected

These are the new natural areas the state will designate in a ceremony today at Ellison Bluff County Park in Door County.

Bayshore Blufflands. An ecologically complex 125-acre site with diverse plant communities. A series of seeps and springs emerge at the base of the bluffs, which rise 150 to 200 feet above Green Bay. The cliffs and outcrops support rare land snails, including the cherrystone drop snail, a state-threatened species. Owned by Door County Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy.

Ellison Bluff. A densely wooded, tiered rock terrace provides spectacular views. The cliffs support a vertical forest of white cedar with Canada yew, mountain maple, red pine, basswood, and red elderberry. Rare plants on the 170-acre site include rock whitlow-grass and broad-leaf sedge. Owned by Door County.

Europe Bay Woods. The site is an undeveloped isthmus between Lake Michigan and Europe Lake within Newport State Park. Contains more than one mile of Great Lakes dune and beach communities, red pine groves, boreal forest, and northern dry-mesic and mesic forest. The 200-acre site harbors rare plants and animals including bird’s-eye primrose, dune goldenrod, seaside spurge and the beach-dune tiger beetle.

Kangaroo Lake. The lake lies in a basin a half-mile from the Lake Michigan coast, and contains a mosaic of communities, including a shallow, marl-bottom lake, forests and marsh. The lake’s source is the spring-fed Piel Creek, which provides critical habitat for the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly. The 357-acre site includes lowland forest of white cedar, black ash, tamarack, black spruce, and balsam fir and floating sedge mats. Owned jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Door County Land Trust.

North Bay. The 225-acre site is one of the last remaining undeveloped stretches of Lake Michigan shore on the Door Peninsula. It contains northern sedge meadow, calcareous fen, northern wet, wet-mesic and mesic forest, boreal forests of white spruce and balsam fir, and springs and spring runs. It also contains coastal marshes and a complex of Lake Michigan dunes with associated ridge and swale topography. The federally threatened dwarf lake iris and the third largest known breeding population of the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly are found there. Owned by The Nature Conservancy.

Rock Island Woods. A 570-acre mosaic of plant communities, including a northern hardwood forest, northern wet-mesic forest, forested seeps and shaded cliff community all located within Rock Island State Park. Dolomite cliffs and ledges occur on the margins of the forest, and some areas support an upland stand of nearly pure white cedar along the rocky coastline. Rare species include mystery vertigo, a land snail, and rock whitlow-grass.

Holland Red Maple Swamp. The 300-acre swamp is located within the Department of Natural Resources’ Holland Wildlife Area in Brown County, and features a northern hardwood swamp and a northern wet-mesic forest. The swamp is dominated by red maple, green ash, and black ash with occasional swamp white oak and tamarack. White cedar dominates the wet-mesic forest. Ground plants include small-spike false nettle, pale touch-me-not, common lady fern, royal fern and crested wood fern.

White Cliff Fen and Forest. The 57-acre site features an undisturbed forest of white cedar and hardwoods surrounding a calcareous fen. Plant species include Kalm’s lobelia, marsh fern and a rare plant — common bog-arrow grass. Rare land snails are known to inhabit nearby bluffs, and the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly uses the surrounding area. Owned by the Door County Land Trust.

The rare Hine’s emerald dragonflies hunting mosquitoes on the North Bay shoreline of Lake Michigan will be a little more secure at sunset than they were at sunrise, thanks to an expansion of the state’s Natural Areas Program.

“The state designation means permanent protected status,” said Carol Sills, a town of Liberty Grove resident who is president of the Door County Environmental Council.

The dedication today of more than 2,000 acres in eight new natural areas in Door and Brown counties increases the natural area total to 383 statewide, and caps an expansion in which the program added 50 new areas this year — its 50th year.

State natural areas range in size from a few acres to thousands of acres and are devoted to scientific research, teaching and preservation of special environments and the genetic diversity they hold.

Wisconsin’s Natural Areas Program was the first of its kind in the nation and now protects more than 147,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land — all containing remnants of the plant and animal communities that covered Wisconsin before European settlement.

The state owns some natural areas, but cooperative arrangements with private groups are key to the program, said Dawn Hinebaugh, Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist with the program

“There’s a lot of partners the DNR works with,” Hinebaugh said. “What’s really becoming important are the land trusts, and that’s not only in Door County, but across the state.”

Three properties added to the natural areas list today are owned, in whole or in part, by the Door County Land Trust.

“This is really a neat concept — the state reaching out over the last 10 years and partnering with nonprofit local groups,” said Dan Burke, who directs the trust.

The 1,400-member trust was founded in 1986 and protects around 2,000 acres in about 60 properties in Door County.

“That’s split between lands we own and lands we hold conservation easement agreements on,” Burke said.

All but a few natural areas are open to the public, Hinebaugh said. Only areas with rare species subject to poachers or those too fragile and small to suffer human contact are closed to the public.

But that doesn’t mean natural areas are good places for a family picnic. They lack the amenities of state parks and tend to be good places for birdwatchers and amateur naturalists, but poor places for those seeking the recreational opportunities associated with parks.

“It’s really for the more venturesome because, typically, there aren’t well defined and marked trails,” Burke said.

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