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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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October 2003

Unique ecosystems

Discovering the wonders of wetlands and gorges.

Natasha Kassulke


At the mouth of the Kakagon and Bad rivers lies a Wisconsin treasure: the most extensive, least disturbed estuary on Lake Superior's south shore. These sloughs host vast wild rice beds prized by their caretakers, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

Working with the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the tribe inventoried water quality and aquatic insect life.

Whether you drive, bike, hike or sail along Wisconsin's coastline, you can enjoy WCMP's partnerships to protect unique coastal ecosystems.

Dr. Donald M. Reed, chief biologist for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, says WCMP funding helped map the Lake Michigan shore to identify coastal wetlands. These maps define the wetland delineation process.

The maps are an important tool in a popular annual two-week wetland training program to teach local officials how to determine wetland boundaries. It takes training to identify seasonal wetlands that disappear during drier times of the year.

Reed cites the Chiwaukee Prairie and Carol Beach interdunal area in Kenosha County as an area of special concern and value. The Chiwaukee is the largest native wet prairie of its kind in the Midwest and provides habitat for orchids, and state-endangered Blanding's turtle. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the south parcel.

Coastal wetlands also are getting a boost from WCMP farther north in Ashland. "This office relies on grants and fees for educational programs that we produce," explains Cathy Techtmann, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center's UW Extension education coordinator.

A new exhibit describes the value of freshwater sloughs using aquariums and a painted diorama. A companion environmental curriculum includes taking people into the estuary.

In addition to 120,000 visitors each year, the center produced and distributed a video and CD, "A String of Pearls: The Estuaries of Chequamegon Bay," with vignettes from people who love the estuary system. Techtmann also wants to develop a Lake Superior Leadership School.

"The coastal wetlands program at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center provides wonderful hands-on learning opportunities for school children and vacationing families," says Travis Olson, WCMP wetlands protection coordinator.

Andy Holschbach, director of planning, resources and land management for Ozaukee County, was similarly honored with WCMP grants. Holschbach and Ozaukee county were recognized with NOAA's Walter B. Jones Award were for teaching about the hazards of building too close to Wisconsin's receding Great Lakes bluffs, for working to develop a way to use tree bark to process milkhouse wastewater, and for purchasing and protecting the pristine Lion's Den Gorge – a 79-acre parcel of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline property in the Town of Grafton. Here, stunning 90- to 100-foot bluffs look out onto Lake Michigan for more than a half mile. The northern part of the property contains a deep coastal gorge.

The $1.28 million Lion's Den Gorge purchase was made possible by a $404,000 WCMP grant, plus funding by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Town of Grafton, Department of Natural Resources, and Riveredge Nature Center and Bird Club. Today, Lion's Den Gorge is part of the Ozaukee County park system and WCMP awarded the county $100,000 for improvements including a staircase, trails, wetlands restoration and parking lot.

"The Wisconsin Coastal Management Program," Holschbach stresses, "is open to unique ideas and has protected a unique place for the public and future generations."

Natasha Kassulke is Associate Editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources.