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On a hot July morning, the first things you'll hear at Fischer Creek are the summer sounds of birds: the buzz of a clay-colored sparrow, the lisping of a cedar waxwing, the rattle of a belted kingfisher, the startled squawk of a great blue heron.
On a sinfully cool and bright October afternoon, sights take over from sounds. Daisies, asters and fleabanes still bloom, milkweed seeds drift across the old fields, golden aspen leaves flutter and the sugar maples glow as though they were burning a year of sunlight in a single day.
Fischer Creek, a 123-acre addition to the Manitowoc County park system purchased by the state's Stewardship Fund, stretches along a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline between Manitowoc and Sheboygan. It is the only substantial public access to the lake in the area.
Although it's still a work in progress, the Fischer Creek property could turn out to be one of the best state land purchases of the '90s. The tract is a mixture of young forest, marsh and grassland crossed by the creek, a Class II trout stream with spring and fall runs of fish from Lake Michigan. The property's diverse habitat and location along the lakeshore migration route will make it a destination for local birders, particularly in the spring. Some ancient burial mounds add archaeological interest.
The property cost $1,300,000, of which the state's Stewardship Fund paid $1.1 million and Manitowoc County $200,000. Manitowoc County is developing a management plan for the area and will oversee its operations.
It's likely that the greatest value of the property will be for non-consumptive recreation such as birding, walking and photography. An advisory committee's tentative plans identify Fischer Creek as a "passive park," where development will be limited to trails, picnic areas, parking areas near the highway and two access points. Some development work will begin in 1997, but visitors should not expect to find parking, toilets, tables or even signs any time soon.
To find Fischer Creek, exit I-43 at Manitowoc County Highway XX about two miles north of the Sheboygan County line. Take County XX east through Cleveland to County LS, and then turn left, following LS north until it crosses the creek about a mile and a quarter north of Cleveland. The Fischer Creek property is located between LS and the lake, roughly centered on the creek.
Perhaps the best time to visit the property will be during the spring warbler migration, which usually occurs from the last week in April through the first two weeks in May. In the summer, look for cedar waxwings in the trees along the bluff; great blue and green-backed herons will be wading the creek, and kingfishers will be perched along it. September brings the return flight of "confusing fall warblers" and the start of fall color.
A number of other parks, forests and wildlife management areas can round out a weekend or a week in the outdoors within an easy drive of Fischer Creek, including Sheboygan Marsh County Park, Kohler-Andrae State Park, the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Point Beach State Forest, and the Collins, Brillion and Killsnake state wildlife areas.
So what good are 123 acres of scattered woods, old fields, marsh and beach in a post-environmental age? Well, Fischer Creek is no Denali or Yellowstone, but many of our greatest interpreters of nature have been inspired by much less. Aldo Leopold had a rebuilt chicken coop on an abandoned farm; Thoreau wrote about a middling little pond and a few acres of domesticated woodland. The capacity of a tract of land to enlighten us is not a function of its size. As Thoreau wrote in his Journal, "The question is not what you look at, but what you see."
By that standard, Fischer Creek will have much to offer.
Dave Crehore is Public Information Officer for DNR's Northeast Region with headquarters in Green Bay.