A path through a wooded area in summer.

A local land trust secures 72 acres of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline

The nature preserve now attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year

In 2002, Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust protected 72-acres of undeveloped property along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The property became known as Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve. For decades, people have enjoyed the scenic views from the 100-foot-high bluffs. They have walked and hiked the trails winding through the prairie and the dramatic cedar-lined gorge as they descended to the shoreline and beach below. Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve attracts over 100,000 visitors each year to the Town of Grafton.

After lengthy and arduous negotiations, Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust’s Andy Holschbach executed a contract with Dr. Ghulum Dhar to purchase the property. The project had wide-spread support from many organizations, including Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the Town of Grafton, Ozaukee County, Riveredge Bird Club, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, and private donors. Ozaukee County allocated $300,000 to the project. Contributions from conservation-minded individuals and organizations made it possible for Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to attain a $455,000 matching grant from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. A subsequent $150,000 grant through the Stewardship Program upgraded the restroom facilities to accommodate events and large groups of people.

After the initial purchase, Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust transferred the deed to Ozaukee County for management as a park and State Natural Area. The Lion’s Den Gorge project became the prototype for protecting ecologically significant properties by planning and managing a “Nature Preserve” within a County Park system.
Lion’s Den Gorge and the adjacent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services’ 44-acre Waterfowl Production area create a vital flyway for migrating songbirds, hawks, falcons, owls, waterfowl, gulls, terns, and other shorebirds, providing exceptional bird watching opportunities. The preserve gives scientific access to an area that has remained untouched by European settlement and has been identified by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as a natural area of local importance.

Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve is open to the public for hiking, picnicking, observing wildlife, and activities customary to a park setting. The park and nature preserve attract over 100,000 visitors each year to the Town of Grafton.

Featured image by Leona Knobloch, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, 2020.

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