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Protect
wetlands through land use planning, acquisition and wetland protection laws.
Restore
wetlands to improve wetland health and function and by re-establishing destroyed wetlands.
Explore
wetlands by getting your feet wet and learning about their wonders.

Lake Michigan Coastal Zone

Point Beach Area, Sea Rocket on Lake Michigan Beach, By EJ Judziewicz

Point Beach Area, 20 Oct. 2000. Sea
rocket on Lake Michigan beach.
Photograph, E.J. Judziewicz.

The Lake Michigan shoreline is varied, ranging from gently sloping glacial lakeplain of Kenosha County in the southeastern corner of the state to the rocky cliffs of the Door Peninsula and Grand Traverse Islands in the northeast. The shoreline along the eastern side of Green Bay, including the Door Peninsula, features clay bluffs, sand and gravel beaches, and dolomite cliffs that reach a height of 150 feet above the bay (Anderson et al. 2002). The Lake Michigan shoreline of Door County consists of low dolomite cliffs and ledges, extensive horizontal exposures of dolomite “beach,” active beach and dune systems, shallow embayments with extensive marsh and meadow associations, and complex ridge and swale systems that harbor an intricate mosaics of wetland and upland plant communities. Red clay bluffs derived from glacio-lacustrine deposits, ranging from 10 to 70 feet in height, characterize the Lake Michigan shore of southernDoor County, south to Milwaukee County. Sand beaches, active dunes, and forested ridge and swale systems interrupt the bluffs from Point Beach(Manitowoc County)south to Kohler-Andrae Dunes (Sheboygan County). Wetlands are scarce along this stretch of the lakeshore but a major dune complex situated south of Sheboygan contains interdunal wetlands and separates a large wetland bordering the Black River from the waters of Lake Michigan.

The southern Wisconsin shore has areas of gently sloping, low sandbanks fronted by wide beaches. Between Port Washington and Milwaukee, bluffs composed of red till and assorted stratified deposits reach heights of 140 feet, decreasing to 25 feet near Kenosha. The bluff bases normally have narrow beaches of sand or cobbles and contain few wetlands. South of Kenosha there is an extensive but degraded dune system and the nationally significant Chiwaukee Prairie, an area of extremely high significance to many rare or declining native plants and animals.

The approximately 70-mile long Door Peninsula extends into Lake Michigan, separating the waters of the lake from those of Green Bay, and is one of the most sensitive areas on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The concentration of rare species and natural communities make it one of the highest conservation priorities in Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region. Many globally rare species are found within the Door Peninsula because of the unique interrelationships of its geographical position, climate, geology, glacial history, and soils. The Peninsula forms the western edge of the Niagara Escarpment, a dolomite bedrock feature of Silurian Age that arcs through Upper Lake Michigan and extends east to western New York State. The western shore of the peninsula features cliffs that reach heights of 150 feet above the surface of Green Bay. To the east the land slopes gently towards the Lake Michigan shore where low rocky ledges, sand dunes, embayments, estuaries, and ridge and swale systems have been formed by wind and wave action over time. Many of the lakes on the eastern side of the Door Peninsula were once bays of post-glacial Lake Nippising but are now separated from Lake Michigan by shoreline sand deposition. Ridge and swale topography occurs at several places along the Lake Michigan coast of the Peninsula featuring complex vegetation patterns and supporting many rare species. In addition, the dolomite Niagara Escarpment forms the shoreline of portions of the Peninsula and creates unique communities such as cliffs, talus slopes, spring seepages, and alvar (Anderson et al. 2002) which in turn support rare, highly specialized plants and invertebrates.

The natural beauty and biological richness of the Door Peninsula have made it one of Wisconsin’s most popular destinations, and the demand for tourism and second-home building warrants serious conservation concern. Major threats to the Door Peninsula coastal wetlands include habitat loss, fragmentation, and isolation, as well as chemical contamination and sedimentation. For example, loss or alteration of wetlands occurs through wetland filling, hydrologic disruption, road and utility corridor construction and maintenance, and forest clearing. Another major concern is groundwater contamination from failing septic systems and leaking underground storage tanks. In addition, surface waters may be contaminated by erosion due to development or agriculture. Groundwater contamination is a particular problem because of the shallow soils and fractured dolomite bedrock that underlies the Peninsula. Contaminants entering these soils are not adequately filtered and travel rapidly to groundwater aquifers (The Nature Conservancy, Grimm et. al., 1994 and Valvassori 1990)

More Information:

The Lake Superior Coastal Zone

Last revised: Wed, 20 Jun 2012 17:20:56 CDT