What happened to the wetlands?

Shocked to learn that the picturesque waterfowl area near Lion’s Den Gorge Preserve was dry, agency has found problem and plans to repair it

DEREK GASBON, a fire management specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stood on the wetland overlook next to the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton last week. The wetland water level has dropped about a foot in recent months because a water control structure was damaged, Gasbon discovered. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Water levels in the 44-acre wetlands adjacent to Ozaukee County’s Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton unexpectedly dropped in recent months.

That was news to staffers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Portage-based Leopold Wetland Management District, which oversees the federally owned wetland.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bruce Luebke, a biologist with the service, said when a reporter called. “That’s news to us.”

He was surprised when he saw pictures showing the wetlands looking more like a dry grassland than a wet stopover for migratory birds.

Ozaukee County Parks and Planning Director Andrew Struck was under the impression that the water level was lowered when the fish and wildlife service conducted a controlled burn of the wetlands in early April.

“The USFWS lowered the outfall structure so they could burn the site (including a portion of the wetland area) in spring,” he said in an email. “They have not replaced the boards at the water control structure at this point.”

Not so.

“Water was still high when we burned it,” Luebke said.

Last week, Derek Gasbon, a fish and wildlife service fire management specialist, visited the site and found the water level down about a foot and found the water control structure, which regulates the water level, damaged, with boards that form a dam knocked out of place.

Gasbon said he can only guess why, but surmised that the damage might have been caused by heavy rains this spring.

According to the National Weather Service, the area received 7.5 inches of precipitation compared to a “normal” two inches; more than six inches in May, almost double the normal amount; and almost 4.5 inches in June compared to a normal 3.9 inches.

Gasbon said he expects the structure to be repaired in the next week or two.

The 73-acre Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve includes nearly a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline and includes 90- to 100-foot-high bluffs overlooking the lake. 

The adjacent 44-acre wetland complex is home to migratory birds — including 20 species of warblers, herons, loons grebes, ducks and raptors, according to the county website.

Besides lake views, the preserve also offers hiking trails, boardwalks, picnic areas, restrooms and bridges over the gorge and stairways to the lake front.

Parts of the park have remained untouched since before the European settlement of Wisconsin, the county says.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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