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Undiscovered Door County Gems






















Door County is a world famous vacation destination with popular attactions sometimes filled to capacity during the summer months. Door County is also known by naturalists as a superb location to expeirence boreal species. Many of these biological sites are equally attractive to toursists. Places such as Peninsula, Newport and whitefish dunes  State Parks as well as The ridges Sanctuary are packed with vistors on weekends. Three places with agequate acres to handle more visitors can be explored.


Baileys Harbor Boreal Forest and Wetlands and the adjacent Moonlight Bay Bedrock Beach State Natural Areas contain a unique and diverse landscape, influenced by the local climate along the northeastern coast of the Door Peninsula. Cooler springs and summers, warmer falls and winters, and reduced evaporation rates have allowed northern species and a boreal forest to thrive here, far south of their normal range. Balsam fir and white spruce dominate the forest, which grades into northern wet-mesic forest of white cedar, white pine, paper birch, and hemlock. Many orchids and rare plants find refuge in the forest, including the federally-threatened dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris). These natural areas protect over 2 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline. An extensive alkaline rockshore, or bedrock beach, is exposed during periods of low lake levels. Bird's-eye primrose (Primula mistanssinica), small fringed gentian (Gentianopsis procera), and tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) are among the uncommon species thriving on the open dolomite flats. The forested communities support a wide variety of birds associated with boreal habitats, including yellow-bellied flycatcher, Blackburnian warbler, and merlin.


From the intersection of State Highway 57 and County Highway Q north of Baileys Harbor, go northeast on Q 3.5 miles to Cana Island Road, then go south (right) 0.1 mile and park along the road at the T intersection where Cana Island Road splits to form a triangle. Walk south along Cana Island Road 0.3 miles, then east into the natural area. Look for SNA signs marking the site's boundary.


The Shivering Sands Unit of the Cave Point to Clay Banks State Natural Area encompasses many geologic and natural elements to form a contiguous and complex landscape. Large tracts of lowland coniferous forest grade to upland stands of mixed northern hardwood/conifer forest. The lake-edge fen communities harbor the state-threatened coast sedge (Carex exilis) and a breeding population of the Hine's Emerald. A complex hydrologic pattern is manifest by numerous springs that emanate from the dolomite bedrock. Small streams thread through the area and both feed and drain the site. Substrates of peat, marl, sand, loam, and dolostone bedrock underlie the mosaic of forest and wetland. Surrounding three undeveloped lakes is an extensive wet-mesic forest of white cedar, tamarack, alder, and balsam fir. Abundant puddles, pools, and ponds saturate the forest. The lakes contain dense expanses of emergent vegetation that provides excellent habitat for nesting waterfowl and wading birds. A large ridge and swale formation supports a forest of white birch, red maple, beech, hemlock, and white pine. To the east a white pine, hemlock, white spruce, white cedar, and paper birch forest occurs on the rocky uplands and contains many species more commonly found further north. The federally threatened dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris) is found here. This large contiguous forest supports a unique fauna rarely found elsewhere on the Door Peninsula. An impressive suite of mammals include fisher, otter, snowshoe hare, porcupine, mink, and coyote.


Access from County T south of Whitefish Bay.


Rock Island Woods features a mosaic of plant community types including a northern hardwood forest, northern wet-mesic forest, forested seeps, and shaded cliff community. The interior plateau of Rock Island contains a mature mesic hardwood forest dominated by beech and sugar maple. Canopy associates include basswood and red oak. Groundlayer species are wild leek, spring-beauty, trout-lily, large-flowered trillium, common lady fern, blue cohosh, and jack-in-the-pulpit. Rare plants include drooping sedge (Carex prasina), Chilean sweet cicely (Osmorhiza berteroi), broad-leaf sedge (Carex platyphylla), and climbing fumitory (Adlumia fungosa). Several moist swales and forested seeps are found on north-facing depressions within the forest containing herbaceous species such as ostrich fern, clustered snakeroot, hairy sedge, and squirrel corn. Dolomite cliffs and ledges occur on the margins of the forest and some support an upland stand of nearly pure white cedar with some balsam fir and white birch along the rocky coastline. About 4 linear kilometers of low moist shaded dolomite cliffs are found in the interior of Rock Island. These moist seepage slopes support a lush growth of ferns with bulbet bladder, fragile, walking, slender cliff brake, northern wood, and intermediate wood ferns. Bird life is diverse with spotted sandpiper, cliff swallow, veery, ovenbird, American redstart, and Canada, blackburnian, and black-throated green warblers. Rare plants and animals include common tern (Sterna hirundo), Caspian tern (Sterna caspia), northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii), rock whitlow-grass (Draba arabisans), and mystery vertigo (Vertigo paradoxa), a land snail.


Most visitors reach the area by taking the Washington Island ferry from Northport to Detroit Harbor then drive to Jackson Harbor and take the passenger ferry to Rock Island.


Descriptions and access information excerpted from the Wisconsin State Natral Areas web page.

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