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Lake Michigan Lacustrine Clay Plain

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About the Lake Michigan Lacustrine Clay Plain

The Lake Michigan Lacustrine Clay Plain is a region in eastern Wisconsin, mostly located along the western shore of Lake Michigan, but extending up to the beginning of the Door Peninsula, and inland a bit Southwest from the end of Green Bay, to the area west of Lake Winnebago. Some documents or ecoregion classification schemese separate this region into the interior Lake Winnebago Clay Plain region, and a separate region along Lake Michigan and to Green Bay.

This region's topography ranges from flat to gently rolling, with a few scattered glacial features such as terminal moraines creating local hills. Although there are relatively few lakes here, this region contains three of the largest lakes in the broader region, the largest being Lake Winnebago, followed by Lake Poygan (and attached Lake Winneconne) and Lake Butte des Mortes. The soils here are mostly red calcareous clays, and there are also lake deposits and glacial till. Over most of the region the soils are silty to loamy in texture, and calcium rich, but low-lying areas have some organic muck soils. The region has a humid continental climate with hot summers and cold winters; the presence of the lakes moderates the climate slightly and extends the growing season a bit. The combination of fertile, silty-to-loamy soils, and the slightly longer growing season makes this region attractive for agriculture.

This region was originally mostly forested, probably mostly supporting a mix of American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American basswood (Tilia americana), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), and white oak (Quercus alba), and slightly less commonly, black oak (Quercus velutina). There were small amounts of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Beech in particular was more common here than in neighboring regions, and northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) was common in wet depressions along the lake. The southwestern portion of the interior part of this region also had a small amount of bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) savanna, probably due to high-intensity fires originating on the more drought-prone areas of ground moraine to the southwest, and occasionally spreading into this region. Native Americans practicing controlled burning also may have helped this ecosystem type to extend farther north and east than it would otherwise have. Low, wet depressions supported swamp forests. There were also some large expanses of wetlands in several locations: along the shores of Lake Poygan, and along the Fox River particularly where it flows into Green Bay. These wetlands included wet meadows, wet prairies, and some shrubland. A large area along the north branch of the Manitowoc River also supported bottomland hardwood forest. Windthrow was a common disturbance along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The original forests here have been cleared. In some places, where the land is poorly-drained, it was drained through ditching. Presently this region is heavily used for agriculture, with the region producing a diverse array of crops, including a variety of fruits and vegetables. There is a small amount of pastureland, and some forests. Agricultural areas often have small woodlots, but there are also some larger, unbroken expanses of forest. Although most of this region is rural and sparsely populated, there are several small cities here, including Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Fond du Lac. All of these, especially Green Bay, have significant suburbanization surrounding them. The lakes here also have significant development around them for residential and recreational use. The wetlands around Lake Poygan are currently in the process of recovering from past attempts at channelization and draining; significant areas of wetland still remain. However, the former wetlands near where the Fox River flows into Green Bay have almost entirely been replaced by an urbanized waterfront.

Both to the south, and to the west along the Lake Michigan shoreline, this region is bordered by the Kettle Moraines, a more poorly-drained region with more lakes and wetlands and more conspicuous glacial landforms. The northeast of this region borders the Door Peninsula, a region with greater diversity of topography and soils. To the northwest this region borders the Green Bay Till and Lacustrine Plain, which has sandier soils. The western, inland portion of this region is bordered to the west by the Central Sand Ridges, with drought-prone sandy soils and a high density of lakes, and to the south by the Southeastern Wisconsin Savannah and Till Plain, a region with more irregular topography and a higher density of glacial features.