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St. Martin Island

Protecting a Great Lakes Island in Lake Michigan


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The Nature Conservancy has launched an ambitious effort to protect an island in Lake Michigan, and you can help!

St. Martin Island — a collection of rocky bluffs, cobble beaches, wetland, white cedar and sugar maple-white birch forests — is located in Michigan waters about five miles from Washington and Rock islands at the tip of the Door Peninsula.

One of the larger islands in a chain that stretches from Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula to Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, St. Martin Island provides critical stopover habitat for birds that migrate through the Great Lakes each spring and fall, as well as habitat for fish and other wildlife.

The Conservancy is acquiring nearly 1,244 acres, or 94 percent, of the island from the Fred Luber family of Milwaukee. Mr. Luber is the former Chairman and CEO of Super Steel Products Corporation. The Luber family has owned and cared for their land on St. Martin Island since the 1980s.

We hope the island will eventually become part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, which includes Hog, Plum and Pilot islands, is a sanctuary for native birds and endangered plants and animals.

The Nature of St. Martin Island

St. Martin Island is one of the larger islands in the Grand Traverse island chain that links Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula to the Garden Peninsula of Michigan. These relatively undeveloped, forested islands provide refuges for birds as they travel through the Great Lakes in migration. They are safe places to land, feed and rest, which is critical to the birds’ survival. More than 100 species of birds have been documented using the island in recent years.

Migrating butterflies, dragonflies and bats also use the islands. In fact, nearby Door Peninsula is one of the hottest spots for bat migration in the Great Lakes.

The broad shallow “flats” off the shore of St. Martin are likely to be a prime area for fish to spawn because those areas warm up faster and the eggs are protected from predators as they fall amongst the rocks.

St. Martin Island is part of the Niagara Escarpment and has significant bluffs, which have rare snails and plants associated with them. In addition to the bluffs, the island also supports a diversity of other types of habitat including forest, wetlands and an extensive cobblestone beach.

Human History on the Island

St. Martin Island has an interesting human history. When Father Marquette and Louis Joliet visited the area in the late 1600s, they are recorded as having seen small bands of Native Americans fishing for whitefish on St. Martin and the other islands in the area.

In the mid-1800s, families from New York, Ohio and other eastern states moved to St. Martin to live year round. They made their living fishing for whitefish, lake trout, sturgeon and lake herring, which they salted and shipped to Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities. They planted subsistence gardens, raised a few head of cattle and cut trees to make cabins, barrels for shipping fish and other tools and buildings. A school and cemetery were eventually established on the island.

At its peak in the 1870s, the population of St. Martin Island was estimated by one census to be about 102 people. The fish populations eventually declined and people left the island. In 1889, the island was officially declared vacated by the prosecuting attorney of Delta County, Michigan.

The Luber family discovered St. Martin Island on one of their summer sailing trips from their home in Door County. When Fred Luber received news in the 1980s that most of the 1,337-acre island was for sale, he bought it. The family built a dock and continued to visit in their peregrinations around the Great Lakes.

How You Can Help

When the Luber family decided it was time to secure the future of the island, they contacted The Nature Conservancy. They are selling the island to the Conservancy for $1.5 million, a price substantially below fair market value, making a gift of more than 60 percent of the land’s value, or $2.85 million. Their generosity, combined with your support, will ensure that St. Martin Island is protected today and for future generations.

The Conservancy has launched an effort to raise $2 million in public and private funds to purchase St. Martin Island and continue its conservation work on the Door Peninsula and in the Green Bay watershed and the Great Lakes. In addition to private donations, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program, Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have awarded grants to help fund the project.

To join us in protecting this special island for migrating birds and for everyone who loves birds, islands and all things wild and free, please click here to make a contribution today. 

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