Located in Door County, just north of Sturgeon Bay near the town of Carlsville, lies a 370-acre site that’s enchanting and delightful to explore in any season of the year. Owned by the Door County Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy, the Bayshore Blufflands Preserve is a “Wisconsin DNR-designated State Natural Area of significant note for its grand scenery, unusual geology, rare plant and animal species. Containing more than seven miles of the Niagara escarpment, the Bayshore Blufflands is an ecologically complex site with a diversity of plant communities both above and below the escarpment and a series of seeps and springs at the base of the bluff’s talus slopes.”
The 2003 A Guide to Significant Wildlife Habitat and Natural Areas of Door County, WI, states:
“Several groups have recognized the Bayshore Blufflands (Carlsville Bluff) as a significant natural habitat in the last 20 years. In 1976, the Door County Natural Heritage Program ranked the area as an important scenic wetland and forest resource area…In 1977, the Wisconsin Coastal Atlas rated the area as high quality wildlife habitat. In 1981, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife-conducted inventory of the Great Lakes coastal wetlands identified and classified the forested wetlands of this site. In 1988, Dr. Jim Zimmerman in his natural features inventory of Door County concluded the Carlsville forest, escarpment, and terraced wetlands were deserving of WDNR Natural Area status.”
On June 29 of this year, Dan Collins and Nancy Aten of Landscapes of Place, took two dozen participants on a Ledge Tour where they hiked both the upper and lower trails of the Preserve. The group learned of the property’s history and explored the upper area’s ‘old field’ ecology while occasionally picking wild strawberries at the path’s edge. Once into the dry mesic forest’s woodline, Collins recreated the experiences of the earliest surveyors, using specific tools and measurements to expand the group’s perceptions of the area. Collins has been instrumental in managing the Preserve, a favorite destination he loves to share with others.
He reflected, “Every square mile of a place has a story and occasionally people write it down. It’s romantic to go back to the 1836 Government Land Office survey and envision three to four people walking the Niagara escarpment and surveying the area – with the tranquil, land-based, tree-oriented old-fashioned compass and 66-foot-long chain. We stop in every spot mapped and look around. How many chains away is each feature? Section lines were every 80 chains apart, and they’d carefully record them. Occasionally they had a ‘bad day’ of surveying and were off the mark. We invite people to see it through our forbearers’ eyes.”
Eric Fowle, co-founder of the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network, shared his recollections of the tour. “Nancy and Dan led the group down the escarpment face helping the group identify various trees, plants and mushrooms. A small stream crossing led the group toward the waters of the Bay of Green Bay which is still about a half mile from the site. Standing along an impressive ‘hogback’ type of feature left by the glaciers’ retreat, Door County Geologist Bob Bultman, used the vantage point to speak eloquently of the escarpment’s formation and its importance to the area.”
Fowle continued, “The group trekked back to their vehicles and in short order were treated to an array of homemade ‘wraps’ and salads prepared by Dan and Nancy at their new (read ‘still under construction’) cabin located deep in the woods below the Niagara escarpment. A short tour of their property revealed the wonders of a massive cedar wetland complex along a hand-built boardwalk and rugged woodland trails. Their love for the property has committed them to removing and controlling several vigilant invasive species and their hard work has been paying off.”
The group enjoyed the day’s hike and the deep knowledge and hospitality of the trip’s hosts, experiencing first-hand the ‘sense of place’ that they have for their landscape and the passion with which they share it. He concluded that Bayshore Blufflands Preserve is “a Ledge Tour that ought to be considered again!”