Places We Protect

Border Lakes


Knife Lake , Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area, Border Lakes, Wisconsin © Cary Reich/TNC

The Border Lakes Area contains two river systems and 100 lakes connected by wetlands and streams.


The Border Lakes Area is a 24,000-acre expanse of forests, wetlands, lakes, and streams along Wisconsin’s northern boundary with Michigan. It is part of a much larger ecosystem that contains two major river systems, a number of untouched glacial lakes, and some of the highest-quality old growth northern hardwood and hemlock forests remaining in the Midwest. This ecosystem, the Ontonagon-Presque Isle Watershed, spans more than 1.2 million acres from northeastern Wisconsin across the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Lake Superior shoreline.

Border Lakes contains the headwaters of the Presque Isle and Ontonagon rivers along with more than 100 lakes connected by a complex network of high quality wetlands and streams.  These waters include numerous aquatic habitats and a diverse assemblage of native fish and other wildlife.

The area links the one-million-acre Ottawa National Forest in Michigan with the 220,000-acre Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest in Wisconsin.  As such, Border Lakes serves as a corridor for wide-ranging mammals including timber wolves, the American marten, and moose.


Conserving large blocks of forestland by protecting them from fragmentation and development. Working with others to ensure that forests are managed sustainably using the most current science. Preventing the spread of invasive species like emerald ash borer. Protecting water quality in lakes and streams within the area.


The Conservancy is working with local landowners and communities to maintain and restore the area’s lands and waters in a way that benefits the vitality of habitats, native plants, wildlife and the local economy.  Here are some examples of how we work:

  • Permanently protecting the forest from fragmentation and development by acquiring land from willing sellers and generous donors and negotiating conservation easements (voluntary legal agreements that permanently limit the present and future development/uses of a piece of land while keeping it in private ownership).
  • Sharing information with landowners about the ecological significance of the natural resources in the area and the various land-management options that would promote sustainability.
  • Removing and preventing the spread of invasive species and improving water quality to support healthy populations of wildlife.


Local community concerns are important to us.  Some of the ways we “give back” to the community include:

  • Opening our preserves to the public for recreational activities;
  • Focusing on protection efforts that will assure clean water in lakes and streams;
  • Preserving some of the most pristine and biologically unique areas for generations to enjoy!


The Nature Conservancy began working in the Border Lakes Area in 1996, when the Dunne and Hinrichs families donated a conservation easement on 502.7 acres of forested land. We now protect additional land at the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area (2,641 acres) and the Guido Rahr, Sr. Tenderfoot Forest Reserve (971 acres).

The Conservancy has helped protect a total of 4,133 acres in the Border Lakes Area. This figure includes lands owned and managed by the Conservancy, conservation easements, government co-ops and assists.


The Nature Conservancy owns and manages two preserves in the Border Lakes Area:

The Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area is a 2,641-acre preserve located between Presque Isle and Boulder Junction. The preserve’s many lakes and ponds provide habitat for species like osprey, loons, and otters. It offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching, including such migratory songbirds as the black-throated blue warbler, American redstart, and golden-winged, magnolia, and mourning warblers.

The Guido Rahr, Sr. Tenderfoot Forest Reserve comprises 971 acres in Vilas County near the Wisconsin–Michigan border. It includes nearly four miles of undeveloped shoreline and 500 acres of old-growth hemlock hardwood forest. The clear, healthy waters of its three lakes contain such sportfish as northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, sunfish, bass, and pumpkinseed.

The preserves are open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching, and other low-impact recreation. Carry-in access for non-motorized boats is available on all waters at the Wolter Wilderness Area. Canoeing, kayaking, and motorized boating is allowed on Tenderfoot Lake. The public may hunt and fish at both preserves.


Matt Dallman, Deputy State Director

If you have any questions about The Nature Conservancy's Border Lakes Area project, please call us at 715-388-7171.

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