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Northeast Coast Door County Area

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Counties: Door


Northeast Coast Door County Area, Pickerel Pond, The Ridges, 20 July 2000.Wiregrass (Carex lasiocarpa) meadow, inundated in years of normal lake levels. Photograph, E.J. Judziewicz.

Site Description

This site is made up of several smaller sites and includes the Bailey's Harbor Boreal Forest, Kangaroo Lake, Marshall's Point, Moonlight Bay Bedrock Beach, Mud Lake, The Ridges Sanctuary, and Toft Point State Natural Areas.

This large area encompasses a series of high quality wetland sites and associated coastal features located on the northeastern coast of Door County, stretching from Bailey's Harbor north to the town of Rowley's Bay. Significant portions of this area are owned by state or private conservation organizations and are protected and managed for their natural values. The primary wetland natural communities include dolomite pavement shoreline and cobble beaches, old beach ridges stabilized by conifer-hardwood forest and swales containing a variety of wetland communities, Great Lakes marsh, rich fen and sedge meadow, rich conifer swamp and boreal forest.

Moonlight Bay Bedrock Beach State Natural Area

Moonlight Bay Bedrock Beach State Natural Area is located north of Bailey's Harbor. The primary shoreline feature is the dolomite bedrock pavement "beach," which is variously inundated or exposed, depending on Lake Michigan water levels. During low water periods the beach area is greatly expanded, facilitating colonization by many plants indicative of dynamic calcareous shorelines, including such rare species as small fringed gentian, bird's eye primrose, tufted hair grass and several sedges. Forested portions of the site overlie dolomitic ledges that are relicts of an ancient shoreline. These forests are typical of northeastern Door County boreal remnants, with white cedar, white spruce, paper birch, white pine, hemlock and balsam fir dominant. Thimbleberry and mountain maple are common understory plants, and the groundlayer, though sparse, supports many mosses and lichens and several rare plants.

Toft Point State Natural Area

Toft Point State Natural Area is located on a peninsula east of Bailey's Harbor. The cool microclimate along the eastern shoreline of this site is created by the effects of Lake Michigan, and the plant cover includes a narrow strip of relict boreal forest dominated by balsam fir and white spruce. The remainder of the peninsula features a mesic forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, and hemlock, with scattered white pine. To the north, along Moonlight Bay, is an extensive marsh and sedge meadow complex that grades into shrub-carr and, finally, wet-mesic forest. This forest is dominated by white cedar, with occasional paper birch and black ash. The site, along with the adjacent Ridges Sanctuary, supports diverse resident birdlife including seventeen species of nesting warblers.

Mud Lake State Natural Area

Mud Lake State Natural Area is a 155-acre shallow, hard drainage lake surrounded by an extensive shrub and sedge fen and cedar and tamarack swamp with many standing snags. This area is located due north of Moonlight Bay, into which the outlet stream drains. The lake is predominantly marl-bottomed, although a dolomite bedrock bottom is found in some areas. Water levels fluctuate with seasonal precipitation and Lake Michigan levels. Reibolts Creek, the outlet stream, supports diverse beds of aquatic plants, which include bur-reed, coontail, pondweeds and wild rice. It has been stocked with trout and supports a trout-spawning run. The smaller aquatic plant beds in the lake support soft-stem bulrush, yellow water lily, common reed, and cattail. Sweet gale, dogwood, and willows dominate the shrub swamp. Waterfowl use of the site is occasionally heavy, and the site also supports a diverse assemblage of breeding marsh birds. Many rare plants and animals are known from this site, including two populations of the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly.

The Ridges Sanctuary State Natural Area

The Ridges Sanctuary State Natural Area is located just north of Bailey's Harbor. It encompasses a variety of unusual habitats, and supports one of the greatest concentrations of rare plants in the Midwest. It features ridge and swale topography on a series of former Lake Michigan beach ridges. The ridges and swales vary from being open and wet with very rich calciphitic marsh and bog herbs dominating, to boreal conifer forest. Black and white spruce, balsam fir, and white pine are the most common canopy species. This boreal forest in northeastern Door County is far disjunct from the other boreal forest stands in Wisconsin, which occur mostly in the northwestern part of the state along Lake Superior. The climate is heavily influenced and moderated by Lake Michigan, with cooler springs and summers, warmer falls and winters. These conditions have resulted in reduced evaporation rates, lower growing season temperatures, and more precipitation, which allow northern species to thrive here. This site supports an outstanding assemblage of rare and endangered plants and animals, including the world's largest known population of the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly.

Baileys Harbor Swamp and Ephraim Swamp

Baileys Harbor Swamp and Ephraim Swamp together form a wetland corridor, which almost completely crosses the upper Door Peninsula. The southern portions of the wetlands are adjacent to Baileys Harbor and consist of parallel, relict beach ridges remaining from the post-glacial time when Lake Michigan levels were higher. Some of the swales between the ridges are wet and open, while others are forested with swamp conifers. Development and fragmentation, caused by new roads and utility corridors, threaten this site.

North Bay

North Bay is a very large site covering approximately 4,700 acres, with approximately 8,500 feet of frontage along North Bay. It represents a significant stretch of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline and includes several high quality wetland communities associated with coastal processes. These wetland communities include emergent marsh, northern sedge meadow, and a large calcareous fen community. Further inland the site contains extensive tracts of northern wet to mesic forest intermixed with boreal components. Many shallow, cold hard water springs and spring runs originate within the site. The major spring fed stream, Three Springs Creek drains through the center of the site, emptying into Lake Michigan through a large emergent marsh at the north end of the bay. This marsh is dominated by soft- and hard-stemmed bulrush, cattail and bluejoint grass.

The North Bay area contains a significant breeding population of the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly, as well as other rare dragonflies. Many other rare plant and animal species also occur here, and the bay is an important spawning site for many fish. Possible threats include ATV use, introduction or spread of invasive species, and development.

Thorp Pond and part of Kangaroo Lake are two ecologically important areas not within the primary Northeast Coast Door County site boundary (proper), but are adjacent to it.

Kangaroo Lake (including Meridian County Park on its south end) and Peil Creek

Kangaroo Lake is an embayment lake created by sand deposition and dune formation that followed the receding lake levels and regional post-glacial land rebound. It is a shallow, marl-bottomed basin with a high pH and calcium bicarbonate rich water. Set within a matrix of agricultural, residential and forestland, it has significant natural communities and rare species at both its north and south ends. At the north end is a wetland complex that includes a diverse mix of plant species characteristic of fen, sedge meadow, marsh, and shrub-carr. Plants such as shrubby cinquefoil, hoary and bog willow, twig-rush, and wire-leaved sedges are present and may be locally dominant. Several beds of common reed are also present. Several rare invertebrates occur in the wetlands and rare land snails occur on nearby dolomite outcrops.

The northernmost basin of the lake is shallow and filled with emergent marsh and floating-leaved macrophyte species including hard-stemmed bulrush, wild rice, and bullhead lily. Several rare plants are also present. A conifer swamp of white cedar and tamarack borders this complex of open wetlands.

The marshes of the north end of Kangaroo Lake are also important breeding and migration staging sites for diving and puddle ducks and shorebirds. Bald eagles, osprey, and Caspian terns often feed on the lake, and historically black terns have nested here. There is significant threat from the construction of single family units on the developable forest and lakeshore lands within the site. Residential unit construction with associated road and utility corridor construction is the major cause of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and possible alteration to wetland hydrology. Inappropriate logging and recreational vehicle use are moderate threats.

On the south end of Kangaroo Lake is a complex of old beach ridges and dunes, now wooded with a 140-acre hemlock-sugar maple-yellow birch forest that is developing old-growth characteristics. Beech, red maple, white cedar and a few super-canopy white pines are also present. There is a dense shrub layer of Canada yew that exceeds 50% cover in parts of the older forest. Mountain maple is also locally common, but the herblayer is generally depauperate, composed of only a few species such as clubmosses, wood ferns, and Canada mayflower. This mesic forest type, located on a stabilized sand dune, is quite rare in Wisconsin.

Thorp Pond

Thorp Pond is a 312-acre, privately-owned complex of wetland communities in the interior of the Door Peninsula, set in a matrix of agricultural, residential, and recreational land, on thin soils over dolomite bedrock. At the center of the complex is a small seepage pond only a few acres in size. The pond is bordered by a narrow ring of tall shrubs, coarse sedges, and white cedar saplings surrounded, particularly on the north side, by a small (7-acre) but exceptionally floristically - significant boreal rich fen dominated by tussock sedges separated by muck pockets with pitcher plant, bladderworts, and buckbean.

A 248-acre northern wet-mesic forest dominated by medium-sized white cedar, tamarack, black spruce, and black ash encircles the fen and pond, with all but the tamarack reproducing. The understory includes alder-leaved buckthorn, red-osier dogwood, and herbs including goldthread and lady's-slipper orchids. The site has a history of logging and, perhaps, grazing, but the interior has recovered well. Also associated with this forest is a 57-acre hardwood swamp dominated by green ash and red (or hybrid red x silver) maple. The most mature patches have trees 9" - 15" in diameter. Characteristic understory herbs include marsh, cinnamon, and royal ferns, water-parsnip and sedges. A number of rare plants and at least one rare animal are present at this site.

Additional Comments

Very This area contains an exceptionally diverse mosaic of high quality natural communities and supports numerous rare plants and animals, some of which are of global significance and/or restricted to Great Lakes coastal environments.

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 17:21:12 CDT