When we started our Great Rivers, Great Lakes campaign last year we set our sights on protecting 2,000 acres of open space in four years. Of these 2,000 acres, one property stood out above all others – Cedar Heights Gorge. Today we are one step closer to protecting this wonderful place and keeping it open for the public to enjoy. Last week (September 2), the Ozaukee County Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly voted to support the acquisition of this 101 acre natural area on Lake Michigan.
Cedar Heights Gorge is an amazing place that actually includes two significant natural areas – Cedar Heights Gorge and the towering Port Washington Clay Banks. It supports a critical species habitat and boasts of 93 acres of primary environmental corridors and 6,600 feet (1.25 miles) of natural shoreline frontage along Lake Michigan. The adjacency to the open waters of Lake Michigan makes this site especially valuable as a resting and refueling stop-over site for thousands of breeding and migrating birds using the Lake Michigan Flyway.
Eventually Cedar Heights Gorge will be owned by Ozaukee County and managed as a county park. Located just a quarter mile north of Lion’s Den Gorge, this acquisition will add to the County’s already superb park system. Cedar Heights Gorge will be open year-round to the public for outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking, birding, wildlife observation, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and swimming. Access to the beach will be via a proposed stairway through the gorge.
“When this project is completed the citizens of Ozaukee County will have some of the best access to the shores of Lake Michigan than anywhere in the Midwest,” said OWLT Executive Director Shawn Graff. “If you’ve been to Lion’s Den Gorge, you surely fell in love. Now imagine as sister preserve equally as impressive and even more accessible!”
Cedar Heights Gorge will become part of the Lake Michigan State Water Trail. Wisconsin's 523-mile segment of the Lake Michigan Water Trail is a continuous water route paralleling the shores of our state. The entire trail will provide 1,638 miles of scenic recreational opportunities along four states when completed. This site will become a major recreational destination.
The acquisition is the result of a four way partnership between OWLT, Ozaukee County, the City of Port Washington and the Highview Group LTD (an Illinois-based development firm.) Highview will be acquiring a total of 227 acres, including the gorge and clay banks. OWLT will then purchase the 101 acre natural area from Highview using funds from the City and County. OWLT is working to secure a DNR Knowles Nelson Stewardship grant and funds from other public and private sources in order to partially reimburse the City and County for the purchase.
On the remaining land retained by Highview, a low density, single-family residential subdivision along with a vineyard and winery operation will be developed.
Highview will enhance the preserve by building parking lots, public restrooms and trails. In addition, each lot owner of the subdivision will be assessed an annual stewardship fee to help offset the annual monitoring and maintenance of the site.
We’re quite confident in our partners to see this project through, but many expenses incurred by OWLT are not reimbursable from the various grant programs we rely on (staff time, environmental assessments, etc...) Your support and assistance is critical!
To make a tax deductible donation to this project or our Great Rivers/Great Lakes Campaign please visit our donation page today!