Welcome to White Cedar Swamp

Photographed November 4, 2014
Erected by Harrington Beach State Park
Belgium, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin
 (A) 43.497424,-87.810904
(entrance to Harrington Beach State Park)
(B) 43.496702,-87.794688
(park at the Welcome Center)

Welcome to White Cedar Swamp
A mysterious land called a white cedar swamp awaits you on this .8 mile loop nature trail. Learn how unique plants and animals live together and survive in this unusual environment.
[NOTE: This is the first marker in the loop -- the other markers on the path are below, posted in the order they appear on the loop.]

The White Cedar Swamp loop is located deep inside Harrington Beach State Park. Use the above GPS coordinates to (A) arrive at the park entrance, (B) park your vehicle at the Welcome Center, and begin the 18-marker journey through the park, to the shores of Lake Michigan, and around Quarry Lake. The address to the entrance to Harrington State Beach Park is 531 County Road D, Belgium, Wisconsin 53004.

NOTE: You will need a Wisconsin State Park annual pass or day pass to access the marker; the marker is inside a fee-to-enter area.


The Cedar Swamp
One of the first things you might notice in this lowland region of trees and shrubs is that most of the soils are saturated with water. This type of wetland environment is called a swamp.

Swamps and other wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and act like giant sponges to soak up excess rainwater and absorb nutrients and chemicals that would otherwise flow into surface waters like Lake Michigan.

Hear the Wind Howl
Toppled Trees
Life isn't easy in this swamp. Look at the number of trees that have died before reaching their full potential. Because the bedrock and groundwater are close to the soil surface, most swampland trees, like white cedar, are shallow-rooted. When the wind howls up and down the coast of Lake Michigan, shallow-rooted trees can be pulled up by their roots. These roots, along with the soil and rocks that come with them, form what is called a tip-up mound. White cedar often grow from the roots and sprouts of cedar mounds. Can you find some as you walk along?
[top photo] A shallow-rooted tree topples - the beginning of a tip-up mound.

[bottom photo] As the tree decomposes, seedlings sprout from the roots and fungi grow from the trunk.

Plenty of Spring Plants
In spring, white cedar swamps bloom with spring wildflowers and items. Plants common to this swamp include wild leek, jack-in-the-pulpit and wild ginger. The abundance of spring wildflowers indicates the cedar swamps have as many nutrients as a fertile woodland. This is because the water in a cedar swamp is neutral or slightly alkaline and carries higher concentrations of plant nutrients to acidic counterpart, the spruce bog.
Spring blooms
Red berry clusters in fall

Wild leek
Grows in patches
Leaves appear in early spring
and disappear before flowers bloom
in June and July.

Water, Water Everywhere
Where does it all come from? Rainwater and stream run-off filled the pond before you.

Dolomite bedrock under thin soil allows water to drain downward to groundwater only where there are cracks and fractures. The standing water you see here is perched on top of a dolomite block with no fractures.

Note: During periods of low rainfall, this pond will dry up.

Swamp Tales
When you imagine a swamp, do you think of dark and dreadful things! Think again! In reality, moisture in this wetland helps produce lush vegetation which furnishes food and cover for many creatures that we enjoy, need and want to protect. Many species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians depend on wetland environments for their survival at some point during their life cycle. How many different types of animals can you find today?
Brown bat
Leonard frog

Special Trees and Shrubs
What do the trees and shrubs in this habitat have in common? They're all able to grow in swampy conditions. The dominant tree, called white cedar, thrives in shady and moist circumstances. Keep your eyes open for other plants that don't mind getting their feet wet including highbush cranberry, red-osier dogwood, red maple, basswood and black ash.
[left] White cedar

[center] Red-oiser dogwood

[Left] Black ash 

Deer Love It Here!
Look around. Do you notice that many trees in the swamp have had their lower branches removed? The park staff isn't responsible for pruning -- deer are!

Whitetail deer, the most common large mammal in the swamp, relish the evergreen boughs of the white cedar. Deer frequent cedar swamps to find food and shelter from the elements. Although deer are common, you must tread quietly to spot one.

Everything's Connected
Energy Flow
Plants and animals depend on each other for specific needs just as people do who live together in communities. In the cedar swamp community, plants and animals are linked together in a never-ending demand for food and space. For example, plants provide food energy for mice, and mice provide food energy for foxes. The flow of energy from one organism to another is fall a food chain.
Wetland food Chain
Wetland plants

The Future of Wisconsin's Wetland Communities
Wetlands once covered about one-fourth of Wisconsin's 35 million acres. But today, most of our wetlands are gone. They have been filled, drained or changed to make way for agriculture, highways, railroads, factories and homes. Preserving areas such as the white cedar swamp is important not only to wildlife, but to us as well. We need wetlands to help keep our lakes and streams clean and to provide places for outdoor recreation.

Wet is Wonderful
Thank you for visiting the white cedar swamp community. If you're interested in more information on wetlands, Cedarburg Bog is only minutes away. Consisting of 1600 acres, Cedarburg bog is the largest intact bog in southwestern Wisconsin. This bog is home to numerous rare plants and animals. Visit the park office for more information.


Plenty of parking at the Welcome Center . . .

Love the birches!

The White Cedar Swamp loop is located at Harrington Beach State Park.

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