Chequamegon Bay and the wetlands and waterways associated with it are one of the most ecologically significant areas in the Lake Superior Basin. The Bay and its surrounding watersheds contain approximately one quarter of the coastal wetlands and one fifth of the nearshore waters associated with the United States’ Lake Superior coast, and many of the tributaries have been identified as Outstanding or Exceptional Resource Waters by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs, which support the largest intact wild rice beds in the Great Lakes, are a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
Recognizing the unique significance of the Chequamegon Bay Area, and the complex challenges associated with caring for it across numerous political and jurisdictional boundaries, a diverse group of municipalities, tribal governments, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and county, state, and federal agencies came together in 2009 to form the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership. Founded initially to capitalize on funding opportunities available through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the partnership committed itself more broadly to improving “the ecological, economic, and social fabric of the Chequamegon Bay area through a collaborative natural resource decision-making and implementation team.”
Northland College served as the sponsoring organization and fiscal agent for the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership, and the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute coordinated the work and outreach activities of the Partnership. By February of 2013, the Partnership had garnered nearly $1 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding for projects dedicated to restoring native fish habitat, reducing sediment and nutrient pollution, and keeping area beaches clean and safe for recreation.
One of the more prominent projects of the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership was the creation of a secondary partnership focused on Fish Creek, which is a major tributary of Chequamegon Bay. Initiated in 2012, the Fish Creek Partnership was dedicated to engaging the local community—and especially property owners within the Fish Creek watershed—in issues affecting the health of Fish Creek. Using newsletters, community gatherings (including a fish boil!), educational programs, and tours of demonstration projects, the Fish Creek Project emphasized problems associated with excessive erosion and sedimentation and strategies for “slowing the flow” of water into Fish Creek. The importance and urgency of implementing these strategies was driven home twice in the next six years when exceptionally large rain events in the summers of 2016 and 2018 caused flooding that transported large volumes of sediment into Chequamegon Bay.
In 2018, the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership merged with two other collaboratives, the Lake Superior Basin Partner Team and the Lake Superior Landscape Restoration Partnership, and evolved into the Lake Superior Collaborative, which is dedicated to coordinating “protection, restoration, and climate resilience efforts in the Wisconsin portion of the Lake Superior Watershed.” Northland College continues as a partner in the Collaborative, and its Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation, in particular, continues to be active in research and projects focused on the Chequamegon Bay region.