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Places We Protect

Mink River Preserve

Wisconsin

Reeds and rocks along the wooded banks of a river.
Mink River Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan combine to form this freshwater estuary, Door County, Wisconsin. © Clint Farlinger

The estuary at Mink River Preserve is one of the few high-quality estuaries remaining in the United States.

Overview

Description

At the Mink River Preserve, waters from the river and Lake Michigan combine to form one of the few high-quality freshwater estuaries remaining in North America. The preserve is important for fish spawning and as habitat for breeding and migratory birds and other wildlife.

It is also one of four preserves owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Door County that provides habitat for the rare Hine’s emerald dragonfly, which was thought to be extinct until it was discovered here in 1987.

Door County hosts the greatest abundance of this federally endangered dragonfly in the world, and TNC is working with scientists and other partners to learn more about the dragonfly and protect its habitat.

Destination Door County has created a great video series about natural areas in Door County that may not be as well known as others. In this video series, you can take a kayak trip down the Mink River with TNC’s Door Peninsula Land Steward Kari Hagenow.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

This is a great place to hike, canoe and cross-country ski.

Hours

Open year-round, dawn to dusk.

Highlights

Canoeing/kayaking, bird-watching and hiking trails.

Size

2,031 acres

Explore our work in this region

Photos from Mink River Preserve

This preserve has it all: habitat for wildlife, beautiful scenery and great canoeing, kayaking and birdwatching!

Forest floor blanketed with flowers each with three white petals.
Small bird with vivid orange in face and throat and triangular black facial pattern stands on a rock on the ground.
Woman sits in blue and white kayak looking through binoculars with wetland vegetation and forest along the shoreline.
A dragonfly with bright green eyes clasps a small branch with its legs.
Three small white flowers with eight petals and yellow centers stick up above dead brown leaves on the ground.
Porcupine standing on downed log.
Clouds are reflected in the blue water of a river with trees and wetland vegetation along the shoreline.
Two woman hike in the woods on a grassy path and approach a preserve sign that says 'Get to Know Mink River Preserve.'
A tall plant with pink flower clusters grows among tall grasses along the shore of a river with forest in the background.
A toad with wart-like bumps on its body sits on the ground among green vegetation.

Visit

  • What to See

    Estuary: Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan combine to form a freshwater estuary. An estuary is an area in which river water mixes with water from a large lake or an ocean.

    As spawning habitat and source of organic material, productive estuaries are vital to the Lake Michigan ecosystem. But they are fragile. Most estuaries along the Great Lakes have been destroyed because they cannot easily share precious shoreline with commercial and residential development.

    Plants: The vegetation at Mink River Preserve is diverse. Sedges, willow, dogwood and alder dominate the marshes bordering the river. Deeper areas of the marsh contain bulrushes and wild rice. Lowland forest, dominated by white cedar, surrounds the edges of the marsh.

    Mink River is home to many beautiful and interesting plants. Some of these include American white water lily, bloodroot, spring beauty, sharp-lobed hepatica, dwarf lake iris, large white trillium, nodding trillium, partridgeberry, thimbleberry, bunchberry, spring beauty, sharp-lobed hepatica, red and white baneberry, columbine and Jack-in-the-pulpit.

    Birds: The preserve is a critical migration site for birds: More than 200 species may pass through the area annually. These include a wide variety of ducks, herons, gulls, bitterns, cormorants and loons. Birds that breed in these wetlands include osprey, American bittern, Virginia rail, sedge wren and the state-threatened yellow rail. Other rare and uncommon birds documented at the site include black duck, black tern, black-crowned night heron and northern harrier.

    Fish: Various Lake Michigan fish species use the estuary during different seasons, including steelhead, brown trout, bass and northern pike.

  • Plan Your Visit

    Perhaps the most popular way to visit the preserve is via canoe or kayak; if you don’t have your own, there are local rental companies in the county.

    There are also five hiking trails at Mink River Preserve:

    Blu­ff Trail: Easy trail composed of packed gravel and mulch with limited to moderate elevation change. The trail winds through upland hardwood forest and ends overlooking Garrett Bay. Trail length to overlook is 0.6 miles.

    Cedar Trail: Relatively flat, easy trail that follows an existing snowmobile trail through an upland opening and into cedar-dominated forest west of the Mink River’s headwaters. Note that spur trails do cross onto private land. Total trail length is 0.6 miles.

    Schoenbrunn Trail: Relatively flat and dry trail that begins in upland hardwood forest and transitions to lowland conifer-dominated forest before ending at the shoreline of the Mink River. Total trail length from the parking area on County NP to the river is 0.8 miles.

    Fern Trail: Trail can be very wet and is not recommended during spring and summer. Over its 1-mile length, this trail transitions from upland hardwood forest to lowland forest before entering the wetlands surrounding the Mink River. There is no river access from this trail. Note that in winter this trail is maintained for snowmobiling by the local club.

    Maple Ridge Trail: This relatively flat trail winds through upland forest. To the east are the lowland forest and wetlands surrounding the Mink River. The Maple Ridge Trail is 1.4 miles from northernmost access point to southernmost, both located on Mink River Road.

  • Maps Preserve Guidelines

    All our preserve maps are now georeferenced. You can download an app on your Apple or Android device, and it will allow you to view your location, record GPS tracks, add placemarks and find places.

Mink River Preserve Background and History

TNC purchased its first 60 acres at Mink River Preserve in 1976. Since that time, we have protected more than 2,165 acres. This figure includes lands owned and managed by TNC, conservation easements, government co-ops and assists.

The preserve is part of TNC’s effort to protect, maintain, and restore the Great Lakes and its surrounding lands and waters so they are sustainable, healthy and resilient for nature and people.

We manage our lands at Mink River Preserve to maintain or improve the quality of our native forests, fish habitat, groundwater-dependent wetlands and other Great Lakes shoreline habitats including habitat for migratory birds and rare species like the Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

Land management activities include planting trees to fill in forest gaps and provide habitat for species that require larger expanses of forest to thrive and to protect the groundwater system. We also remove invasive species including European marsh thistle, cattails, Phragmites and woody invasives like buckthorn and autumn olive.

To inform our land management work, we engage in research that answers questions we have regarding the health of a species or its habitat or how to improve our approach to management. Examples of research include:

  • Understanding the ecological impacts of the various varieties of Phragmites (a problematic plant species that occurs throughout the Great Lakes region) in the wetlands of the Mink River
  • Exploring the impact of private septic systems in the Mink River ground watershed on the quality of the groundwater flowing to Hine’s emerald dragonfly habitat at the Mink
  • Research into the life history of the Hine’s emerald dragonfly

Much of our land management and research is planned and done in conjunction with partners from public agencies, academic institutions, private landowners and other conservation non-profit organizations. 

Nearby Preserves

Need more nature? Visit The Nature Conservancy's other preserves.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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