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M-12 - Point Beach Area

Counties: Manitowoc


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

Site Description

This site is made up of several smaller sites and includes the Point Beach Ridges, Wilderness Ridge, and Woodland Dunes State Natural Areas.

This site includes three disjunct areas adjoining the City of Two Rivers. These sites form a very important coastal wetland complex in Manitowoc County, with significant portions under state ownership and other areas managed for conservation values by private organizations. This site features well developed and extensive forested ridge and swale systems within Point Beach State Forest and Woodland Dunes.

Point Beach State Forest

This is a 1,800 acre area owned by the state and located just north of the City of Two Rivers. It includes two State Natural Areas, Point Beach Ridges and Wilderness Ridges. The state forest borders the Lake Michigan shore for six miles and is between 1/2 and 1 3/4 miles wide. It features many examples of Great Lakes coastal communities including some that are extensive and of high quality. These communities include Great Lakes beach and dune, interdunal wetland, forested ridge and swale, northern and southern sedge meadows, white cedar swamp and hardwood swamp.

The two most important community groups are the forested ridge and swale complex and the Great Lakes beach and dune. The ridges support several upland forest communities, with drier pine-oak-birch types near Lake Michigan, and mesic hemlock-hardwood forests farther inland. The swales vary from being forested with white cedar and tamarack to shrubby with alder dominant, to emergent marsh or northern sedge meadow communities. A large, mostly forested wetland lies west of the ridge and swale area and is drained by Molash Creek, a slow, hard, warm water stream. Quality and composition of the wetland is variable with areas of second growth black ash, green ash, trembling aspen, and white cedar; and black ash, tamarack, and white cedar swamp with alder, dogwood, cattail, and reed canary grass. There is also an area of higher quality white cedar-dominated swamp on the east side of the wetland. The lower section of Molash Creek flows southward out of the swamp, through a disturbed, open, green ash, alder, and reed canary grass wetland, and then eastward to the lake through high quality alder thicket and southern sedge meadow.

Many rare plants and animals are known from the Point Beach area, including plants endemic to the Great Lake shorelines.

Some of the upland areas within the state forest also include old open fields with native and exotic plant species, as well as a few red pine plantations. A county highway passes through the state forest from north to south, and there are several paved and gravel access roads, three campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, parking lots, headquarters buildings, a lighthouse, a visitor center, and a few private inholdings. The trails, campground areas and portions of the beach and dunes receive heavy recreational use.

Woodland Dunes

Woodland Dunes is located just southwest of the City of Two Rivers. It is a privately owned nature preserve and comprises a 700 acre forested tract containing parallel sandy ridges representing former glacial lakes levels that lie 10-20 feet above Lake Michigan's present surface. The forested ridges support hardwoods, scattered hemlock, pine and aspen. Small elm, cedar, and lowland brush are present in the swales. This is an important stopping place for many migratory birds, and the site supports several rare plants and animals. Maintained trails and boardwalks provide access to a variety of habitats and facilitate local educational use and nature interpretation.

Rahr Memorial School Forest

The interior portion of this school forest is located just north of Point Beach State Forest, along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Privately owned cottages separate the state park from this property. This forest preserves a small portion of the same coastal wetland landscape as the park and includes hardwood swamp, shrub carr, and a 1/4-mile stretch of undeveloped Great Lakes beach. The upland vegetation includes northern dry mesic forest, as well as sandy old fields. The Great Lakes endemic beach plant, seaside spurge, has been seen here as recently as the mid 1990's.

Both on- and off- site land uses have disturbed this area. Recreational use of the beach is particularly heavy, and a system of hiking trails traverses most of the site. Low-density residential development occurs to the north, south and west. Several areas to the west have have undergone wetland restoration as part of local waterfowl management activities. This site borders private land contiguous with the north end of Molash Creek Swamp and this area should be considered in any management plan for Point Beach State Forest.

West Twin River Marsh

West Twin River Marsh is privately owned and one of the larger river marshes (roughly 80 acres) along Lake Michigan. The wetland borders the West Twin River west of the City of Two Rivers. Dominant plants are sedges and cattails with patches of willow and dogwood. Some infringements by the city and local farmers are taking place including dumping, filling, and draining of the river wetlands. This marsh is an excellent stopover for many species of birds. Timber on the north edge has been completely cut, and grazing continues to be a significant land use.

Additional Comments

Point Beach contains significant examples of communities that are restricted to shorelines of the Great Lakes. Other parts of the site provide additional habitats and make the overall area valuable to many native species.

Text describing this site was published previously in a 2002 DNR publication entitled “A Data Compilation and Assessment of Coastal Wetlands of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes” by E.J. Epstein, A. Galvin and W.A. Smith.

NOAA logo Wisconsin Coastal Management Program logo This project was funded by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Last revised: Wed, 20 Jun 2012 17:21:10 CDT