Conserving Water, Benefitting Birds and Business

For many years, Dr. Noel Cutright envisioned the creation of a bird observatory along Lake Michigan. As a renowned birder and ornithologist, he knew that the western shore was a significant stopover point for birds on their migratory journeys, being part of a major flyway stretching from South America to Alaska. So when a golf course in the town of Belgium went on the market, he saw an opportunity.

photo by Kate Redmond

This is a dream-come-true for the late Dr. Cutright and for over 200 species of migratory birds. It’s good for the economy, water conservation and is truly a special place for all to enjoy. Photo by Kate Redmond

Dr. Cutright encouraged the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) to buy the golf course property, which included frontage on the Lake Michigan shoreline, and transform it into a migratory bird preserve. Skeptical about siting a nature preserve on such a manicured landscape, OWLT did their research while experts devised a plan to create several habitat types favorable to migrating birds. Ultimately, they were convinced of the ecological significance of the land and the viability of Dr. Cutright’s vision and began fundraising for the project.

OWLT secured funding for half of the purchase price through the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program, making this incredible undertaking possible. Then, collaborating with local birding groups, many local contractors, and people at every level of government, ten years of land restoration was accomplished in only eighteen months of intensive work.

photo by Ken Tapp

One of Dr. Cutright’s favorite quotes was this one by Rachel Carson: “There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” Photo by Ken Tapp

Today, this special place is known as the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. In addition to providing 150 acres of safe cover for birds to rest and feed, it offers a trail system that winds through the property, and is home to the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, another of Dr. Cutright’s visions. It also uses 10-20 million fewer gallons of water per year than its predecessor. The nearby town of Belgium was planning to dig a new well and build a water tower to meet municipal demand, but since the Preserve was created, the town found it no longer needed more water production.

A printable version of this story and others are available on our website. Feel free to share with legislators and media outlets to help save the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program!