Sand dunes along Lake Michigan with a hilly dune rising to the left and covered in sand and green vegetation, running into the brown shallow water of the lake on the right.

Conservation efforts along Lake Michigan, including Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs, seek to prevent erosion

250 miles of Lake Michigan, Superior, and Huron shoreline are listed as at high risk erosion.

Kate Archer Kent talked with conservation experts on Wisconsin Public Radio about the current state of the shoreline along Lake Michigan and efforts to preserve the surrounding land.

Neil O’ Reilly, the Director of Conservation and Environmental Sciences at UW-Milwaukee, explained that changing lake water levels contribute to erosion. Recently, Wisconsin has experienced a few drier than normal years and the lake levels are reflecting this trend.

Some areas of the shoreline are less stable than others. Ozaukee County, in particular, has very high bluffs that are unstable. Vegetation plays a big role in keeping the bluffs in place and not eroding into the lake. As development increases along the lakeshore, more land is disturbed and eroded away, according to O’ Reilly.

Tom Stolp, executive director of Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, explained how the organization works to protect land in the greater Milwaukee area. Private landowners can conserve their properties along Lake Michigan through conservation easements, which permanently prevent development. The land trust also works to protect public land in the form of nature preserves that are open to all.

“We’re in the midst of a multi-year effort to conserve one of the largest remaining undeveloped tracts of Lake Michigan in the Milwaukee metropolitan area,” said Stolp. “We call it the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs and it is a project our community is very excited about.”

The nearby Lions Den Gorge Nature Preserve has experienced increased use during the pandemic with a total of about 300,000 visitors. This trend unscored the need to preserve more areas along Lake Michigan that are accessible to residents in the nearby Milwaukee metropolitan area.

Unfortunately, efforts to conserve this property have been in limbo for the past year, according to Stolp. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust was awarded a $2.3 million grant through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which is now at risk due to the anonymous objection of a single legislator on the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Get caught up on the story with coverage by the Journal Sentinel.

“We know very simply that we’re not making any more land, and at the same time, so many people are interested in outdoor recreation. Providing natural amenities like Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs is really important so that current and future generations can enjoy all of Wisconsin’s wonderful outdoor traditions,” said Stolp.

Featured image by Tom Gill, 2016.

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