Developer’s Port land is near Lion’s Den preserve
For the second time in a month, officials are seeking to expand the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton.
Ozaukee County officials are looking at purchasing about 20 acres on the far south side of the City of Port Washington, land that is not contiguous to the park but is about a half-mile to the north.
The land contains the pristine Cedar Heights Gorge and surrounding wetlands and white cedar woods, said Planning and Parks Director Andrew Struck.
“There’s been very little disturbance here,” he said, noting the land is dominated by white cedar, which is unusual for the area, and is considered prime habitat for wildlife.
The land, which was platted for a subdivision decades ago, is part of more than 300 acres owned by VK Development. The developer has indicated a willingness to carve out a lot for the county to purchase, Struck said, adding it will likely include about nine acres of the gorge, six acres of wetlands and woodlands near the headwaters and a buffer area.
The land includes Lake Michigan frontage, he said.
“This is a parcel that’s been in our long-range plan,” Struck said, noting the land is within the Lion’s Den project area and would complement the 73-acre county park.
“This may be one of the last times the county and its partners have a chance to protect this land. Certainly, someone could propose development there.”
The county will work with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust on the Cedar Heights Gorge purchase, Struck said. The Land Trust is currently working to determine the parcel boundaries and obtain an appraisal of the land, which is needed for the
county to seek a Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Grant to help finance the purchase.
The grant would pay half the appraised value of the property, and the county would seek a Department of Natural Resources stewardship grant for the other half, Struck said.
“We’re looking at doing a combination of state, federal and private donations, if necessary, to finance the purchase,” he said, adding that the donations would likely cover some of the upfront costs, such as the appraisal.
Last week, the county’s Environment and Land Use Committee authorized seeking the conservation grant for the purchase, he said.
If the county receives the grants, the committee and the Ozaukee County Board would be required to accept them.
A similar partnership and funding plan was used to purchase Lion’s Den Gorge in 2002.
Lion’s Den, which features not only the gorge but almost 3/4 of a mile of bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, was purchased for $1.28 million using Coastal Management and stewardship grants, contributions from the county, Land Trust and Town of
Grafton and a variety of donations.
Since it was acquired, the county has added amenities, including 1.5 miles of walking trails and a boardwalk, as well as a staircase leading to the Lake Michigan shore.
The grants that are being sought to buy the Cedar Heights Gorge require public access to the land, and Struck said he envisions the county creating lake access similar to that at Lion’s Den.
“To the degree we can provide access and be sensitive to the natural area, we will,” he said.
The project is on the fast track, Struck said, because conservation grant applications are due March 18.
There is another lakefront parcel between the Cedar Heights Gorge and Lion’s Den that the county would like to obtain and preserve in the future, Struck said.
“We’re hoping someday there would be a possible connection (between the parcels),” he said. “Even without that, this land is definitely complementary to what we have.”
This is the second time in the last month that officials have looked at expanding the Lion’s Den area. The Town of Grafton, Land Trust and county staff members previously looked to buy 50 acres of land next to Lion’s Den from VK Development, but learned that a private buyer is in the process of purchasing the parcel.