The Pensaukee River watershed covers 160 square miles in Oconto and Shawano counties. The Pensaukee River arises in eastern Shawano County and flows east through Oconto County to Green Bay. Streams in the watershed are generally shallow, small, and are not conducive to the development of a sport fishery.
Primary land use in the watershed is agricultural. Dairy farming is the most widely practiced type of agricultural activity. Point source dischargers to surface waters in the Pensaukee River watershed include the village of Krakow WWTP and Graf Creamery. Graf Creamery also pumps wastewater from a ridge and furrow system and spray irrigates it. Sevener (1985) found failing or inadequate septic systems have been a problem in the Zachow area.
The Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape is located in northeastern Wisconsin, and includes Green Bay and the northern part of the Door Peninsula. Its landforms consist of the Niagara escarpment, a prominent dolomite outcropping along the east side of Green Bay, a lacustrine plain along the west side of Green Bay, and ground moraine elsewhere. Low sand dunes and beach ridges that support Great Lakes endemics and many other rare species are found along the Great Lakes shoreline. The influence of Lake Michigan moderates extreme temperatures. Soils are very diverse; in some areas, lacustrine sands are found overlying clays or bedrock within only a few feet of the surface. In the Door Peninsula, soils are typically stony loamy sands to loams. Poorly drained sands are common in the lake plain or in depressions between dunes and beach ridges. On the western side of Green Bay, the ground moraine is composed mostly of moderately well drained, rocky sandy loams, interspersed with lacustrine sands and clays, and peat and muck also common.
Historic vegetation included maple-basswood-beech forest, hemlock-hardwood forest, northern white cedar swamp, hardwood-conifer swamp, wet meadows, and coastal marshes. Conifer dominated upland forests that resemble the boreal forest were present along Lake Michigan; they contain a significant component of white spruce and balsam fir. Cliffs, sinkholes, and dolomite ledges are associated with the Niagara Escarpment. Current vegetation consists of more than 60% non-forested land, most of which is in agricultural crops, with smaller amounts of grassland, wetland, shrubland, and urbanized areas. Forested lands are dominated by maple-basswood, with smaller amounts of lowland hardwoods, aspen-birch, and lowland conifers. High quality areas of exposed alkaline bedrock beach occur on the northern Door Peninsula, providing habitat for many rare plants. Several islands lie off the Door Peninsula and these also provide critical habitat for rare species and colonially nesting birds.
The Pensaukee River's lowest seven-day average low flow in 10 years (Q7,10) at Krakow was zero, i.e. no flow.
The watershed's underlying bedrock is dolomite near Green Bay, grading to sandstone and a different type of dolomite in the western portions of the watershed. The western part of the drainage area exhibits a typical rolling glacial topography. Eastern sections are considerably flatter. Low, level land areas are common near the Green Bay shore.
Soils in the watershed are varied with well-drained rolling loams and clay loams over a red clay subsoil common in the western portion of the watershed. Soils in the eastern part of the watershed are primarily brown loams over red clay with poorly drained soils near the Green Bay shoreline.
Two threatened species of fish, the greater redhorse (Moxostorna valenciennesi) and the longear sunfish (Lepomtis megalottis), have been reported in the Pensaukee River.
Aquatic Invasives County Coordinator - Shawano County
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Watershed History Note
The Town of Pensaukee was formed in 1855, becoming the first town in Oconto County. At the time of incorporation it had three unincorporated communities developing. The settlement of Pensaukee being the largest, Oak Orchard and Brookside, the crossroad community that is now centrally located within the reduced boundaries of the county. The town took its name from the Menominee Indian name for the river Paissacue.
The unincorporated village of Pensaukee developed in the area of the original waterwheel powered mill site built in 1827 approximately 1 mile from the mouth of the river. It was the first sustained commercial sawmill in the Michigan territory (which included everything west of the great lakes to the Pacific Ocean). Between 1850 and 1852 a new mill site was developed at the mouth of the river, around which the community developed.
At the height of the logging industry, there were seven dams on the Pensaukee River with at least three mills operating at one time. The later mills were eventually powered by steam. A farming community developed surrounding the mill site. As the timber needed was logged, people began purchasing or homesteading on land to establish farms. Many would log in the winter and clear land and till soil in the summer.
By the 1870s, the town had established roads and schools. Some of the communities built churches, general stores and necessary trade people were established. However, the communities in the town suffered enormous loss of timber as well as loss of some property during the fire in the fall of 1871, commonly referred to as the Peshtigo Fire, which culminated on Oct. 8.
The Pensaukee tornado of 1877 nearly destroyed the entire village on the river. The lumber, milling and gristmills, plus the machine shops of the Gardner Company and most of the homes and businesses were demolished. The community was rebuilt, including the mills, only to see them close in 1884. The economy of the village then completely switched to commercial fishing and businesses to support the surrounding growing farms.
By the early 1900s, the town of Pensaukee had no evidence of its first major industry. The village of Pensaukee had the appearance of a typical fishing village with a row of fish shanties along the river, boats moored in front of them and nets being dried on net reels along shanty sides and smokehouses. There was a business district consisting of several hotels, general store, saloon and necessary trades. As modern society advanced and the supply of fish decreased, the town developed an entirely different economic base.