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Crossroads at Big Creek: A Door County natural oasis

Crossroads at Big Creek
Susan Bence
Big Creek on its path to Lake Michigan. The stream had been channelized. Crossroads re-meandered its path to allow the stream to hold more water and more native plant and aquatic life.

Door County stands out among Wisconsin's natural gems. Within the peninsula there’s a lesser known natural oasis called Crossroads at Big Creek. The 200-acre nature preserve is located just east of downtown Sturgeon Bay where Samantha Koyen serves as executive director.

It started with 53 acres that seemed destined to become a gas station. Now, Crossroads encompasses nearly 200 acres of ongoing ecological restoration, starting with Big Creek that flows through the parcel.

The stream, part of a 6,253-acre watershed that flows in Lake Michigan, had been channelized, once a common agricultural practice.

Landscapes of Place

In 1998, Crossroads began remaindering the stream.

"The bends in the creek allow for little oxbows and wetlands to be made and so that allows for more water to be stored in those areas temporarily. And it also means you have greater diversity of habitat," Koyen says.

This spring, crowds came to Crossroads to watch suckers, a fish critical to Lake Michigan's food chain, travel upstream to spawn.

"They're called suckers because they have sort of this suckering mouth ... and at a specific time of year we have a huge number that come through, like hundreds of them ... They'll reproduce, go back to Lake Michigan and then next spring do the same thing," Koyen says.

For decades nearly all of this land was filled with orchards. When Crossroads came to life, planting row upon row of pine trees was considered a great restoration strategy.

"There's people who come back to visit us. They remember being a kid in the school district planting a tree here. But it's one of those things, we learned better and we're doing better," Koyen.

She points to a variety of tree species that are gradually being planted. "Diversity is really important because a monoculture is more susceptible to disease, invasive [species], all the bad stuff. So, you'll see our forest is slowly changing," Koyen says.

Koyen's passion for nature started at an early age. In her words, she was a child of mud and dirt. "I grew up in Massachusetts, across the street from a land trust," she says. "I got to go explore, pick up rocks and crayfish, bring frogs home."

She wants that opportunity for generations to come. "As I got older, I started to realize that access to green space, true access to green space, where you can explore is really rare, especially if you don't have money," Koyen says.

Crossroads varied programs— designed for all ages —are free and open to all. "It's just truly amazing that a place like this can exist still. That's awesome," Koyen says.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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