It’s one of the most recognizable and perhaps most under-appreciated parts of the landscape of Northeastern Wisconsin: The Niagara Escarpment.
Faculty and student scientists from UW-Green Bay and other schools have studied its geology and ecology for years, but it’s fair to say the general public hasn’t looked that closely.
“Nobody in Wisconsin has really recognized the escarpment for what it is, which is actually a very globally unique resource,” said Eric Fowle, a 1992 UW-Green Bay Urban Studies and Regional Analysis graduate. Back then, he never paid attention to the unique feature either, even though it runs right through the UW-Green Bay campus.
“Basically along Bay Settlement Road, the drop in elevation along the road on that side of the campus is the escarpment,” Fowle said. “There are some trails through the arboretum that take you down along the base of it. The nature tower, the viewing tower, is on top of the escarpment. So that feature runs the whole length as you head to Door County.”
The 650-mile escarpment is essentially the outer edge of an ancient lake basin. It goes from Wisconsin all the way to New York.
“It’s the same formation as Niagara Falls so the geology of Niagara Falls is basically the same we have here,” Fowle said. “We’ve got Wequiock Falls but that’s a little different scale.”
Fowle says the escarpment is a valuable natural resource and is home to some very unique ecosystems.
“You have conditions that are pretty raw so to speak,” Fowle said. “The plants and animal life there range from having full exposure to the wind and the sun to crevices and caves that they can hide in so there’s over 241 documented endangered and threatened species that are known along Wisconsin’s escarpment corridor.”
After becoming interested in the escarpment through his work with the East Central Regional Planning Commission, Fowle created the Niagara Escarpment Resources Network. The grass roots group promotes education and awareness of the escarpment.
“Conservation and economic development can co-exist and in this case they’re one in the same,” Fowle added.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources presented Fowle with the prestigious Northeast Wisconsin Natural Resources Award. Fowle said he was honored and humbled to be chosen.