It’s hard for the Door County Land Trust Land Team to temper their excitement when describing the property slated for the Land Trust’s fifteenth nature preserve. “It’s spectacular,” said Land Program Director Jesse Koyen. “Over a half mile of Bear Creek and its surrounding forested banks make up the heart of the property. There are beautiful, scenic vistas of mixed open grasslands and forests with 50’ high ancient hills.”
The rare diversity of the landscape occurs within the preserve’s 75 acres that lie just over half a mile from Lake Michigan’s shoreline in southeastern Door County. Approximately 30 acres of forested wetland lies within its center. “There are some really big, old-growth cedars and hardwood trees growing on the stream banks and magnificent overlooks down into the stream valley,” said Senior Land Protection Manager Terrie Cooper. “We tend to think of Door County bluffs as having these dramatic views and not the county’s interior land. It’s like going into a little Appalachian valley.”
The beauty of the proposed nature preserve is equal to its ecological significance. Its varied environments currently supply habitats for a range of species, including migratory birds and fish, and grassland and wetland breeding birds. More specifically, the diverse species list of flora and fauna includes neotropical warblers, yellow birch and mountain maple, and six-feet-tall ostrich ferns. Just over a half mile from Lake Michigan, the creek provides a spawning site for trout. “Protecting land around a stream or wetland corridor is one of the best ways to ensure our watersheds remain healthy,” said Executive Director Emily Wood. “These areas act as a buffer zone that can slow, filter, and clean surface water before it hits the lake.”
The future vision for the property could take multiple years to complete. “The intent is to install a parking lot and kiosk, more than two miles of trails, two scenic overlooks, and wetland boardwalks,” Koyen said. “A few small fields will be restored and planted with trees, while other fields will be maintained for grasslands with specific birds and pollinators in mind.”
The overlooks will take advantage of the view into the deep-cut valley with Bear Creek and its banks, as well as the panoramic vista from atop a hill overlooking grasslands. An important aspect of the infrastructure is that the Land Trust is looking into making as much of the trail ADA accessible as possible. A boardwalk will allow hikers to cross Bear Creek. Working with WI-DNR, the trails, boardwalks, and overlooks will be carefully planned to protect wetlands and ecological features of the land.
Bear Creek Nature Preserve will supply visitors the opportunities for activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing, and fishing, and especially bird-watching, photography, and wildlife observation.
It’s been over a decade since the Land Trust considered one of their properties for a nature preserve. The last one being Heins Creek Nature Preserve in Baileys Harbor. According to Jesse, before an area is chosen for nature preserve use, many questions must be answered. Among them: Can the property and habitat accommodate necessary infrastructure? Is it large enough for visitors to spend a good amount of time? And lastly, are there other conservation lands nearby?
“In this case, we were conscious of less conservation land being open to the community in Southern Door and we wanted to provide that opportunity in this area,” Koyen said.
To create the new Bear Creek Nature Preserve, the Land Trust must raise the funds to purchase the property, which DCLT optimistically hopes to complete in October 2023. Other expenses for the new nature preserve include robust plans for public recreation and funds for the long-term management of the preserve. Once trails, boardwalks, and overlooks are completed, staff and volunteers will continue the ongoing care of the trails and wildlife observation areas.