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Big Bay Wetlands

Back to Eastern Lake Superior

Counties: Ashland


Big Bay Wetlands. Aerial view of Big Bay, Madeline Island, 15 Oct. 1996. Looking inland from Lake Superior, showing pine-clad barrier beach, wetland, and inland beach ridge. Photograph, E.J. Epstein.

Site Description

This site includes the Big Bay Sand Spit and Bog State Natural Area.

Big Bay is a large east-facing embayment on Lake Superior along the eastern coast of Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands. The embayment contains a coastal barrier spit, beach and dunes, xeric pine forest, lagoon, and a diverse array of peatlands. The lagoon is bordered by coastal fen, coastal bog, shrub swamp, and tamarack swamp. An abandoned sandspit, now three-quarters of a mile inland from Lake Superior, separates a distinctive, much more acid complex of peatland types (that include open bog, muskeg, and black spruce swamp) from the more minerotrophic types to the east. The floating mat around the lagoon is composed of native wire-leaved sedges (wooly and coastal sedge and twig-rush), sweet gale, and buckbean. Away from the lagoon the more firmly grounded coastal bog mat consists of Sphagnum mosses, ericaceous shrubs, and a different complement of sedges. Small tamarack form a nearly closed forest of 4"-11" d.b.h. trees near the interior spit. To the west of the interior spit, which supports a boreal conifer-hardwood forest, is diverse highly patterned acidic peatland. The interior is quite open, with deep, hummocky Sphagnum mosses, ericads, and a depauperate vascular flora representative of a truly ombrotrophic community. Among the few herbs present are the wire leaved (few-seeded, few-flowered and poor) sedges, tussock cotton-grass, and round-leaved sundew. Stunted black spruce are abundant. To the east there is a closed stand of mature black spruce with a nearly level sphagnum carpet. Large tamarack ring the bog and spruce swamp, and a wet moat-like zone of alder, black ash, and lake sedge occurs at the upland margins. This may be the only coastal wetland on Lake Superior where fens adjoin a true ombrotrophic bog.

Additional Comments

This site is rich in rare and uncommon species and contains undisturbed, sometimes large examples of many natural communities. As within Big Bay State Park and a designated State Natural Area, the major tasks are to ensure that inappropriate use does not occur and to monitor periodically for invasive species.

Last revised: Wed, 20 Jun 2012 17:21:11 CDT