Celebrations continue at Crossroads at Big Creek. This weekend, in collaboration with the Celebrate Earth Week 2017, the Climate Change Coalition of Door County , the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network, the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, we will celebrate both Arbor Day and the Niagara Escarpment.
Naturally, we will plant trees (though certainly don’t limit tree planting to Arbor Day,) we will be offer a teacher education class through UW-GB called “Trees through the Curriculum”, and on Saturday night, we host a free, public screening of the new documentary, “The Great Ledge.”
“Dan Larson, a De Pere resident and seasoned documentary film maker, spent over three years capturing people and places along Wisconsin’s Niagara Escarpment to create The Great Ledge. This 40-minute film focuses on the stories behind the Escarpment, whether they relate to geology, groundwater, habitat or the production of agricultural and mineral resources associated with this unique landscape. The passion of the people he interviewed helps to express the ‘connectedness’ we all feel between ourselves and the Niagara Escarpment.”
The”Great Ledge” program begins Saturday April 29, at 6:30 with a reception to meet Dan Larson, followed the 7:00 screening about the Niagara Escarpment and an after-the-show Q&A and discussion.
The juxtaposition of our programs reminds us to consider the truly remarkable ancient trees of the Great Ledge.
In an article called “Vertically Inclined” in the December 2015 issue of the beloved magazine Wisconsin Natural Resources, Kathryn A. Kahler wrote: “about the time Michelangelo was sculpting in Italy, a white cedar tree took root in a fissure of the Niagara Escarpment in Door County near what would be called Sven’s Bluff centuries later. Today, though it lacks the stature of Michelangelo’s “David,” that cedar still clings – twisted and sculpted by nature – to the dolomite cliff where it rooted 500 years ago. It is one of thousands across the U.S. and Canada comprising a vertical forest, the most extensive old-growth forest east of the Rockies.”
Having received my formal education in the somewhat flat states of Nebraska and Illinois, I had a never heard of an “old growth vertical forest” and had always considered white cedar (a.k.a arbor vitae) to be a wetland species. I had been taught that cedars flourished in places with little competition from other trees.
And I have to say, because these trees grow directly out of the sides of cliffs, competition from other trees is the least of their problems. But, cedars have several adaptation that enable them to survive. The scaly foliage is able to absorb moisture and even nutrients from the air, and trees growing on the cliff face along Green Bay frequently are often bathed with morning fog.
The root tips of all trees are amazing and the first to explain their capabilities was, of all people, Charles Darwin. He explained that root tips behave almost like the brains of lower animals. If they hit a rock, they will grow around it; if they find a crevasse, they will find their way inside. What root tips are seeking is the correct ratio of moisture and oxygen, and the fractured dolomite of The Escarpment provides it.
Kahler quotes The Nature Conservancy’s Mike Grimm who explained, “The trees have maintained their tenuous hold on life for hundreds of years through a delicate balance. If they grew faster, they would succumb to the force of gravity. And if they grew slower, well, they would be dead.
“The cedars reproduce by dropping seeds which find small pockets of soil and moisture in cracks and ledges of the cliff face. Once they germinate, the seedlings begin their slow growth, aided by a symbiotic relationship among their roots, fungi and algae living in the rock. The fungi and algae collect phosphorus and nitrogen from the rocks and transfer them to the tree roots.
“The cedar’s root structure is unusual and may be a key to its success in this marginal environment. Unlike other trees that have nonspecific roots, each of the white cedar’s roots is dedicated to a specific section of the trunk. So if one root is damaged when rock fractures and gives way, the tree can isolate the damage and survive. It also explains how the trees get their twisted appearance and sometimes end up growing sideways or downward instead of upward.”
On Arbor Day weekend we celebrate a unique landform on which grows a unique forest of gnarly trees which are much older we would ever imagine. And we will plant some very young trees, some very close our Door County bedrock.
Crossroads at Big Creek is a donor supported facility made up of the Big Creek, The Cove, and the Ida Bay preserves. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan just east of the Highway 42/57 Roundabout in Sturgeon Bay, is open 2:00-4:00 daily and during scheduled activities. Trails in all preserves are open 24/7 free of charge.
Friday, April 28 4:00 Arbor Day Hike Celebrate Arbor Day, “the day of trees” with a gentle ramble to some of the tree plantations at Crossroads, plus a visit to our own riparian cedar forest along Big Creek. Trails may be wet. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center. Free and open to the public.
Saturday, April 29 6:30 pm Film: “The Great Ledge” The program begins with Green Music prelude, followed by the film about the Niagara Escarpment and an after-the-show Q&A and discussion. Sponsors: Climate Change Coalition of Door County, Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership.
Wednesday, May 3 6:30 pm Lecture: Citizen Action to Protect the Waters of Northeast Wisconsin. Dean Hoegger, president of Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, will give an update on the state of our ground and surface waters. Sponsored by Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin and Celebrate Earth Week 2017.