Lion's Den Gorge, showing the hillside with scrubby grass and plants sloping down to the turquoise water of Lake Michigan on the right.

Key funding for the purchase of Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs is now in question

Ozaukee Washington Land Trust hopes to acquire the 131-acre the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs property, but funding through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is stalled by an anonymous lawmaker.

Funding for the acquisition of a 131-acre property in Port Washington is now in limbo. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) has been working to obtain a grant through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs property, which is currently owned by Waukesha State Bank. The grant process is now stalled in the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance.

In June 2021, the Wisconsin DNR approved a $2.3 million grant, but an anonymous legislator on the Joint Committee on Finance objected. The committee is able to review grants greater than $250,000. OWLT tried to negotiate with members of the committee and was eventually offered a smaller grant amount of $1.6 million. OWLT informed the committee that they needed time to make up the $700,000 shortfall and asked for a few months to work with their donors and the local community to raise the necessary funds. But now the Joint Committee on Finance is refusing to even set a hearing date to approve the grant for $1.6 million.

The committee’s inaction could result in OWLT not being granted the funding needed to protect the land. Time is of the essence, as OWLT has until the fall of 2022 to purchase the property, and there is allegedly a private buyer also interested in acquiring the land for development.

The Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs property includes almost a mile of shoreline and bluffs along Lake Michigan, as well as surrounding wetlands and woods, which serve as important habitat for birds and wildlife along the Lake Michigan flyway.

If the purchase is finalized, OWLT plans to preserve the land with a conservation easement. The property would then be transferred to Ozaukee County and be managed as a county park that is open to the public. The site has the potential to be connected to the nearby Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve.

Read more in articles in the Ozaukee Press and Ozaukee County News Graphic, as well as this editorial by the Ozaukee Press.

Featured image by Joseph Gage, 2020.

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