The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust geographic service area includes all of Ozaukee County and most of Washington County*, approximately 650 square miles. These two counties are located directly north of the City and County of Milwaukee encompassing the Lake Michigan shoreline, rolling moraine landscape, prime working farmlands and multiple important wetland regions.
In 1999 the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust board of directors recognized the need to take a strategic approach to land preservation in the region. The board adopted six key areas within the two-county region on which the organization would focus conservation efforts.
OWLT Project Area Selection includes:
Cedar-Sauk Low Woods Area - This natural area has been declared one of local significance by Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. It consists of a lowland hardwood forest and includes a stream running from the Cedarburg Bog. The protection of this area is vital for wildlife as it creates a natural corridor between Cedarburg Bog and other surrounding woodlands.
The surrounding land has also been included within the project area to provide a buffer of protection around the forest. These areas are also vital to the overall health of the Cedar-Sauk Low Woods, located in the Town of Saukville, Ozaukee County.
Holy Hill Area - The Holy Hill Region and Kettle Moraine Forest draws people from all over the world. Throughout the seasons, residents and visitors hike cool forests, canoe still waters, drive rustic roads, fish lakes and streams, and seek solace in Holy Hill’s quiet beauty.
Holy Hill and the Kettle Moraine landscape are changing. As farmer’s age and commodity prices drop, many farms are sold. Fields that once grew corn and hay now sprout residential subdivisions, reducing the quantity and quality of wildlife habitat, as well as changing the rural and scenic character. Large homes built on wooded hillsides and shorelines disrupt natural corridors used by nesting and migrating birds, and the once sought-after scenic landscape slowly begins to resemble nearby sprawling communities that have grown beyond their borders.
Holy Hill Woods, with over 300 acres in the heart of the Region, is among the largest upland forests remaining in Washington County—and in all of Southeastern Wisconsin. This forest protects local water quality within the watersheds of the Little Oconomowoc and Oconomowoc Rivers. In a large glacial basin to the west of Holy Hill is a chain of hard-water seepage lakes. Surrounding these lakes are alder thickets, lowland hardwoods, sedge meadows, and tamarack swamps that remain much as they were in pre-settlement times. Loew’s Lake, is an undeveloped kettle lake tucked within an extensive block of wetlands and forest near the headwaters of the Oconomowoc River. Many plant communities thrive in this pristine wetland complex area, species that may be lost if not for conservation efforts. Over 200 species of animals thrive in these habitats, including 17 classified as endangered, threatened or of special concern.
This area is located in the Town of Erin, in southwestern Washington County.
Huiras Lake Area - This wetland and upland forested area that supports very high biodiversity because it contains relatively undisturbed examples of several wetland and upland forest types. The natural area also contains a pristine, shallow, hardwater seepage lake with an undeveloped shoreline, which is extremely valuable waterfowl and wildlife habitat.
Although portions of the upland and wetland forest have been logged in the past, there has been no recent disturbance to the natural area and the forest has not been adversely impacted by development. The natural area is very unusual in that it has not been colonized by the invasive exotics which plague most similar natural areas in southeastern Wisconsin. For example, none of the troublesome exotic shrubs (honeysuckle, common buckthorn, or glossy buckthorn) have been found in surveys of the flora of the area. The lack of recent disturbance combined with the near absence of introduced or exotic plants render the Huiras Lake natural area perhaps the most "pristine" wetland area in southeastern Wisconsin.
In addition to being a high quality natural area because of lack of disturbance, the plant communities of the Huiras Lake natural area are very unusual for the southeastern Wisconsin region. The wetland communities are excellent examples of vegetation typical of northern Wisconsin, but are very uncommon in the southern part of the state.
The surrounding land has also been included within the project area to provide a buffer of protection around the forest. These areas are also vital to the overall health of the Huiras Lake Woods and Bog. This area is located in the Town of Fredonia, in Ozaukee County.
Shady Lane Woods Area – Located just north and west of the Cedar-Sauk Low Woods Area, it consists of a relatively undisturbed expanse of upland hardwoods. This area further insures the protection of these upland woods and the Low Woods area to its south. Shady Lane is located in the Town of Trenton, in Washington County.
Lake Michigan Shoreline Area - The goal of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) in selecting this area is to identify and preserve critical land and water resources that support the ecological health of the approximately 28 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Ozaukee County. The Project Area encompasses approximately 80 square miles (50,000 acres) of land within Ozaukee County, accounting for nearly one third of the land area of the county. The Project Area includes the Lake Michigan Direct Drainage Area as well as the Sucker Creek, Sauk Creek and Onion River sub-watersheds. The types of resources proposed for protection in the plan include, but are not limited to, coastal and inland wetlands, near-shore ridges and swales, freshwater estuaries, lakeshore ravines, and high quality upland areas that support the above listed resources.
The lake contributes significantly to the quality of life enjoyed by it's residents and visitors, and adds to the area’s growth and prosperity. In addition to the nearly 87,000 Ozaukee County residents that will benefit directly from the project outlined in the plan, this project will also positively impact everyone in the region that relies on Lake Michigan for their drinking water, commerce and recreation. Protection of the land and water resources will therefore benefit area residents as well as protect wildlife habitat.
One unique area that is a focus of this plan is the Lake Michigan Flyway, which is a trans-continental migratory route for birds and butterflies that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline. The Flyway is acknowledged as one of the most important routes for migrant songbirds in the western hemisphere by ornithologists and bird watchers worldwide. Many locations along the Lake Michigan shoreline within Ozaukee County continue to serve as safe havens for wildlife during their migration. However, with recent annexation combined with increasing growth the shoreline and adjacent areas are experiencing tremendous development pressure. The increasing development results in a loss of critical food and refuge areas for wildlife and an overall decline in water quality and availability.
Given that the Ozaukee County’s population is projected to exceed 100,000 by the year 2035, OWLT recognizes that a stronger collaborative effort is needed between the non-profit and governmental bodies that share the responsibility for protecting Lake Michigan’s unique natural resources. OWLT is working with public and private groups to prioritize preservation efforts to focus, coordinate, and allocate resources to achieve the Trust’s protection goals.
Milwaukee River Watershed Area
What’s in the Milwaukee River Watershed Area?
Over 1 million people
Over 55% of Ozaukee and Washington Counties
Approximately 490 miles of perennial rivers and streams
865 square miles of land area
Over: 280 species of breeding birds,
40 different mammals and
50 species of fish
Rivers are far more than the waters that flow within their banks. They are the lifeblood of a flowing freshwater system that includes our groundwater, wetlands, streams and lakes. Everyone lives within a watershed and has an effect on the quality of water within this system. One simple definition of watershed is communities connected by water. The Milwaukee River is one of our most important natural resources. Excessive development and poor conservation practices have jeopardized the health of the river and the adjacent natural areas and habitat. Wetlands support 75 percent of Wisconsin's native plant and animal species and serve invaluable functions-they are the sponge and filter for the river basin. Clean water is a building block for quality of life and economic development. Protecting the shoreline, adjacent land and restoring wetland and forest in the watershed is critical to improving water quality and wildlife habitat. When storm water is filtered by native plants and has time to soak into the ground, water quality is significantly better.
Rapid development in our counties is a present reality, as new subdivisions grow on productive farmland and in upland woods, and shopping centers encroach on wetlands. Poor planning can cause the fabric of our rural landscapes and villages to unravel, while water quality declines and much of our wildlife disappears.
Runoff from fields, parking lots, roads and lawns increases flooding and carries a damaging load of sediment and fertilizers into streams. These pollutants increase the temperature of the water and support explosive weed growth, making life impossible for many of the River’s wild inhabitants.
Due to this rapid habitat destruction we negatively impact on the flora and the animals and fish that need this habitat. Natural streamside vegetation provides wildlife with vital habitat as they move about to find food and shelter, and set-up places to safely rear their young. Once urbanized or suburbanized, streams lose their ability to support life-and much of their appeal to people.
Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is actively involved in improving within the watershed and ultimately river frontage and river quality.
Understanding that other conservation protection or easement opportunities may present themselves, the board agreed to undertake projects outside of the five areas if:
1) the project involved protection of important ecosystems and natural resources features and/or
2) the project involved collaboration and partnerships with other organizations and government agencies.
* The exception in Washington County is the watershed of Big and Little Cedar Lakes, which is under the auspices of the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation. See Partners Page