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Chiwaukee - Illinois Beach Shoreline

Back to Southern Lake Michigan

Counties: Kenosha


Chiwaukee - Illinois Beach Shore. Photograph by Thomas A. Meyer.

Site Description

This site includes the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area.

The Chiwaukee-Illinois Beach Shoreline is located south of the City of Kenosha on the southeastern shoreline of Lake Michigan just north of the border with Illinois. Much of the site is protected by the state of Wisconsin and the Nature Conservancy. It is a large, partially fragmented, coastal lake plain prairie complex of both wetland and upland communities including prairies, fen, sedge meadow, savanna and dunes. The low, sandy beach ridges and interceding swales, created when the level of glacial Lake Michigan was lowered in stages, characterize the best parts of this site and provide many microhabitats that support an extremely rich flora (over 400 plants have been documented). Many species of rare plants and animals are found here.

This site is the most intact and floristically rich coastal wetland complex in southeastern Wisconsin. It is currently threatened by development, altered hydrology (wetland filling), fragmentation by roads and subdivisions, and non-native plant invasions. This site adjoins Illinois Beach State Park, which also contains exceptional ecological features. This site remains a high protection priority for the State of Wisconsin and The Nature Conservancy. Areas surrounding the site are still threatened by development, wetland filling and invasive species.

Kenosha Sand Dunes and Low Prairie

This site is located north of Chiwaukee Prairie on lake plain just north of Chiwaukee Prairie along the southeastern coastline of Kenosha County. An ancient hardwood forest lies buried beneath the dunes. At present this site includes one half-mile of Lake Michigan frontage containing semi-open dunes and dune succession patterns (fore dunes to swale to wet prairie). The large low “prairie” area behind the dunes is rich and diverse, including stands of cattail marsh, wet prairie, shrub-carr and sedge meadow. The dunes are weedy but still dominated by plants characteristic of this community type, including marram grass, sand-reed grass, Canada wild-rye and field wormwood. There are depressions within the dunes that support wetland plants, and scattered black and bur oaks occur with a few prairie grasses in the more stabilized sandy uplands. The site has been degraded by off-road vehicle use in the dune area, and by riprapping of the shoreline. This is one of the few dune systems in southeastern Wisconsin, and rare plant species are present in both prairie and dune habitats.

Additional Comments

This site contains the only lakeplain prairie complex in Wisconsin, supports exceptional diversity and is large enough to provide suitable habitat for sensitive animals. The dune system to the north, though degraded, is the only dune remnant in southeastern Wisconsin and adjoins a rich wet prairie.

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 17:21:14 CDT