DNR Releases Draft Plan for State Parks

A Department of Natural Resources (DNR) draft master plan for the region including Door County’s state parks includes some expansion of existing facilities and creation of new ones. The plan is up for public comment and review, with a public meeting scheduled for May 29 at Stone Harbor in Sturgeon Bay at 5 pm.

The draft plan details uses that are mostly aligned with the way each park operates today, with significant expansion of recreational opportunities at Peninsula State Park and an explicit effort to keep parks such as Rock Island and Newport more rustic.

The DNR adopted the regional approach to the master planning process after its inability to keep up with the statutory requirements to review master plans for each individual property every 15 years. Rock Island State Park is still operating from the master plan implemented when the park was adopted in 1965. That plan calls for a road between Washington Island and the park.

Terry Hilgenberg is chairman of the Natural Resources Board, which approved the new master planning process in 2017. He said the change is a way to continue the planning process with the DNR’s limited resources.

“With less people and bigger jobs we have to figure out ways of how we can be more efficient and more effective,” said Hilgenberg. “We have more than one million acres and we don’t have the manpower to properly maintain some of that. We need a process where we determine the priorities of where to invest our money and future projects.”

Master plans are not binding, and the DNR is not required to implement anything in the master plan. But the master plan does limit the type of infrastructure changes the department or related Friends groups can make.

Here are some of the highlights from the draft of the master plan for Door County’s state parks.

Peninsula State Park

  • An outside consulting firm will develop a more sustainable trail system, which will include opportunities for fat biking and horse trails.
  • The addition of up to 200 parking spots, spread out among Nicolet Beach, the overflow lot used by ampitheater visitors, Eagle Terrace and other areas.
  • Construction of a new park entrance, possibly at a different location.
  • A shelter located at Lot 5, near the Highland Road entrance, which will also serve as a warming hut for winter trail users.
  • A small observation platform at the Nicolet Bay Overlook.

Potawatomi State Park

  • An outside consulting firm will develop a more sustainable trail system that does not call for horse trails.
  • Creation of an accessible fishing pier at the South Shore Picnic Area, for which the Friends of Potawatomi State Park have already been fundraising.
  • Construction of a new park entrance, possibly at a new location.
  • Creation of an observation platform at one of the scenic overlooks.
  • Construction of an enclosed shelter at the group campsite with fireplace to also serve as a winter warming hut for winter trail users.
  • Dismantling of the existing tower. There is no mention of reconstruction of the tower.

Newport State Park

  • Creation of four to six miles of horse trails, including toilet facilities and hitching posts.
  • Creation of two semi-primitive campsites only accessible by kayakers and paddlers arriving from the water.
  • Five additional walk-in campsites

Whitefish Dunes State Park

  • Creation of a rustic campground with 20 to 35 sites.
  • Designation of the trail between Cave Point County Park and the state park. An unofficial trail is already heavily used by visitors and the DNR hopes creation of a designated trail will help contain destruction of surrounding natural habitat.
  • Expanded parking at the beach if space allows.

Rock Island State Park

  • Expansion of the Jackson Harbor parking lot if adjacent property becomes available.

The master plan for the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape encompasses all state-owned properties in portions of Door, Marinette, Oconto, Brown, Shawano, Outagamie, Waupaca and Kewaunee counties. To see the complete draft master plan for more than 30,000 acres of DNR land in the region, visit, search for keywords “master planning,” and select the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape.

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