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The Lower Peshtigo River wetlands are a Wisconsin natural jewel. A diverse environment with hardwood and softwood forests, wetlands along a meandering river and coastal wetlands on the shore of Green Bay, these high-quality ecosystems are capable of supporting a variety of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
The Peshtigo River Trail, a canoe route from Peshtigo to the river's mouth on Green Bay, takes you past areas where fish, bird and mammal habitat has been preserved to help the fish and wildlife that have been injured by the release of PCBs into the Lower Fox River and Green Bay. This trail, along with three trails on state-owned lands in the coastal area, provides recreational opportunities and education about the wetland resources under protection.
Through the final NRDAR settlement with Georgia-Pacific, 900 acres have been acquired in the area and donated to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This acreage connects the Peshtigo Harbor Unit of the Green Bay West Shore Wildlife Area and the Bloch Oxbow Natural Area and remaining undeveloped river shoreline. The land has an estimated value of $2,512,708.
This strategically located property ensures protection of frontage along the Peshtigo River – the last natural river emptying into the western shore of Green Bay – by the DNR, a single public resource manager.
According to Greg Cleereman, Marinette County conservationist, "Purchase of additional lands through the trustee council was the trigger to establish the water trail and now three land trails."
Emergent marsh (a swamp that dries up and comes back naturally), meadows and floodplain forests make up the wetlands. On a lazy afternoon canoe trip along the trail, you might see eagles, great blue herons, ducks and geese. Steep sand banks on the Bloch Oxbow Natural Area provide nesting sites for swallows, while the dry forested land above the bank is habitat for several threatened bird species.
The property is part of the foraging range of bald eagles from at least three known eagle nesting sites along the Peshtigo River. The forested shoreline and river provide good habitat for numerous species that may have been affected by PCBs, including bald eagle, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, mink, beaver, northern pike, suckers and sturgeon.
Portions of the property will grow into forested buffer areas and restore natural hydrological conditions, helping create and improve wetland habitat for fish and wildlife. Preserving this corridor will also benefit downstream areas such as Green Bay and the mouth of the Peshtigo River, through erosion control, nutrient recycling, and control of runoff pollution. The mouth of the Peshtigo River provides significant foraging habitat for numerous species of concern, including bald eagles, ospreys, and common, Forster's and Caspian terns.
The river's rocky bottom is home to numerous fish species. Shallow areas and floodplains provide spawning habitat while other areas offer anyone venturing onto this stretch of the Peshtigo River the opportunity to go sport fishing.
While the shoreline provides excellent habitat for wildlife, it will also provide exceptional outdoor experiences for anyone making the trip into the area. Marinette County Land and Water Conservation Department, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and DNR have acquired a grant to develop a land trail system through the area in addition to the existing water trail.
Tom Nelson is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer.