In Travel & Visitors Guide

Though not always noticable, the Niagara Escarpment is one of the most significant geological features in North America - and runs along Wisconsin's east coast.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

The Escarpment's limestone cliffs have been a resource to civilization for centuries.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Groundwater seepage from areas miles from the cliffs help create a unique mini-ecosystem, featuring rare plant and wildlife.

The Niagara Escarpment: Wisconsin's eighth natural wonder

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It's also much, much more than just a geological formation. The Escarpment – both the Ledge and land running alongside it – have been a focal point for civilization dating back to the first human settlers.

"There is a lot of archeological evidence dating back to the Paleo-Indian period that the land surrounding the Escarpment was used for spiritual gathering places and the like,' says Fowle. "It provided a very good vantage point, sort of a natural path up and down that part of the state. An area like High Cliff State Park would have been very important not only for its prominence along the lake and the vistas that it offers."

Resources of the Escarpment continued to be utilized well into the 19th and 20th Centuries, from the French fur traders to the Industrial revolution. The limestone, especially, became a popular commodity and helped provide a foundation for the growth of urban Wisconsin.

Use of the Escarpment is found all along its length here in the state. The stone was used for building homes, churches and other structures. Within about two miles, on either side of the cliff face, there are approximately 500 designated historic sites and structures.

In the 21st Century, the Escarpment is still providing the basis for development and construction.

"It continues today," Fowle says. "It's still one of the state's top-rated resources for building stone in Wisconsin. We export a fair amount of stone, whether it's for landscaping, building or even certain Corps of Engineers needs like riff raff and other shoreline protection materials."

Today, much of the land alongside the Ledge, is protected land. High Cliff State Park, located on the northeast shore of Lake Winnebago is perhaps the best-known site. Within the 1,187-acre park is a 125-acre state natural area, protecting the cliff environments, forest area and more than a mile of Lake Winnebago shoreline. The park also contains effigy mounds and other important archaeological features.

Visitors can get an up-close look at the cliff by following the 3.7-mile Red Bird Trail, which runs along the top of the ledge or the 2.3-mile Lime-Kiln Trail, which climbs the cliffs and runs through the Niagara Escarpment State Natural Area and many historic lime kiln ruins.

There are also some examples in Southeast Wisconsin, even though the rocky cliffs of the Escarpment are buried beneath the ground. In Menomonee Falls, Lime Kiln Park surrounds the original falls of the Menomonee River and the remnants of historic lime kilns and a former limestone quarry.

The river flows through a small gorge of Escarpment landscape with 5-to-10-foot bluffs on either side. Even closer to home, you can catch a glimpse of the Escarpment on your next trip to Miller Park. The large cliff on the southwest side of the stadium, along the VA Center land is actually part of the Escarpment, too, and contains the remains of a prehistoric coral reef.

Along with High Cliff, there are several other state parks, wildlife refuges and natural areas running along the Escarpment corridor, all through the state. And at the same time, the Escarpment is still the bread and butter of many quarries and other industries.

Striking the right balance between preservation and production is an ongoing debate.

"We have to recognize that if we continue to live like we do and we want urban expansion, you need those materials,," Fowle says. "For every 20 miles you have to haul a truckload of gravel, it doubles the cost.

"If you look at the corridor and the urban areas located either side, they're relatively close proximity to those resources so it's of great value."

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Talkbacks

THE_Guru | Oct. 1, 2011 at 8:46 a.m. (report)

Finally, an article that's written like a pro. As a geologist (yes there are geologists living in the area) it's nice to read about geology from the area we live in. Oil, gas and oil shale ----- drill ahead!

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