St. Martin Island

Protecting a Great Lakes Island in Lake Michigan


St. Martin Island

Wisconsin Public Television profiles St. Martin Island on “Wisconsin Life.”

St. Martin Island

Fly Over St. Martin

Get a bird’s-eye view of St. Martin Island from the air.

Fly over St. Martin Island.

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.

In November 2013, The Nature Conservancy’s Wisconsin program acquired nearly 1,244 acres, or 94 percent, of the island from the Fred Luber family of Milwaukee. At the end of 2014, we purchased another 36 acres from David Uihlein, Jr., president of Uihlein-Wilson Architects in Milwaukee. Both the Lubers and Mr. Uihlein made generous donations of a portion of the value of the land as part of their sales to the Conservancy in order to see the island protected.

In September 2016, we transferred St. Martin Island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to 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 Natural and Human History of St. Martin Island

St. Martin Island is part of the Grand Traverse chain of islands in Lake Michigan between Wisconsin and Michigan. These relatively undeveloped, forested islands are safe places for birds to land, feed and rest during migration, which is critical to their 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.

St. Martin Island is part of the Niagara Escarpment and has significant bluffs, which have rare snails and plants associated with them. 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 has an interesting human history. In the mid-1800s, up to 27 families lived on the island year round, making their living fishing for whitefish, lake trout, sturgeon and lake herring, which they salted and shipped to Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities. Fish populations eventually declined and people left the island. In 1889, the island was officially declared vacated.

Your Support Made It Happen!

Generous donors who love Door County and Lake Michigan contributed more than $575,000 to help purchase St. Martin Island. In addition to private donations, the organization has received grant awards from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program and the Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also received a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to help fund this project.

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