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After five years of work and negotiations, the Door County Land Trust has protected one of Washington Island's most unique hidden jewels: 53 acres of wetlands, forest and a large stretch of undeveloped shoreline on the shores of Little Lake and Green Bay. The Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council funded the habitat preservation project with $298,000 along with $265,000 from the Knowles-Nelson State Stewardship Fund and $10,000 from a Door County Land Trust endowment to cover annual maintenance and stewardship costs.
The first step was purchasing acreage and securing a conservation easement on the Kurt and Carol Meyer property, the key parcel in this project area. On January 2, 2006 the Door County Land Trust purchased 16 acres from the Meyer family. A conservation easement is being finalized for the remaining 37 acres to protect the upland forests surrounding Little Lake from any future development.
The Meyer property was once home to a large village of Native Americans and a Native American burial ground. The Little Lake museum has a large collection of artifacts found on the Meyer property dating back 3,000 years. An Archeological Preservation Covenant with the Wisconsin State Historical Society on 15 acres along the east shore of Little Lake protects the Native American artifacts.
Today, activities on the purchased land are limited to passive public recreation. The conservation easement ensures no additional buildings, subdivision or activities will threaten the natural features of the property. Limited agriculture is allowed and forestry activities are permitted according to a DNR Managed Forest Law plan.
Currently, all lands adjacent to the Meyer property are in an undeveloped, natural state. The land protected by the land trust includes over 1,300 feet of shoreline and a small peninsula that extends into Little Lake. In addition, the groundwater springs that feed Little Lake as well as a five-acre spring-fed fen wetland and 10-acre lowland cedar forest have been preserved. The area is home to the dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris), a Great Lakes endemic plant found only on the shores of lakes Michigan and Huron.
The possible presence of the federally endangered Hine's Emerald dragonfly in the wetlands is also significant. In addition, Little Lake supports a productive population of small panfish like perch, rock bass as well as smallmouth bass. Little Lake also supports a large population of breeding waterfowl and the northeast corner of the lake where the fen occurs is a major breeding site for amphibians.
Little Lake is the only inland water located on Washington Island and is 24 acres in size with a maximum depth of only six feet. This small, landlocked lake, formed thousands of years ago as the shallow bay of glacial Lake Nippising was slowly closed off from Green Bay by sand and gravel deposits. As the glacial waters receded, a 250-foot wide cobblestone ridge formed to create Little Lake.
According to Terrie Cooper, Door County Land Trust's land program director, "Little Lake is one of Door County's ecological gems and an area most deserving protection. Unlike most inland lakes in Wisconsin, the majority of Little Lake's shoreline remains undeveloped." In December 2005, Cooper worked with the Department of Natural Resources to designate Little Lake as one of Wisconsin's newest State Natural Areas, a designation reserved for those places that still possess outstanding examples of the native plant and animal communities found here before European settlement.
For more information on Little Lake and other natural areas in Door County visit Door County Land Trust.
Colette Charbonneau is restoration coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Green Bay. For further information on NRDAR projects, contact Colette Charbonneau, (920) 866-1726.