story by SHARON VERBETEN
“That lake has a special place in our heart,” says Ellingson, 40, a married mother of two from Green Bay. “It’s just a quiet peaceful setting.”
Ellingson has been visiting since she was 8, with her parents and three siblings as their winter getaway. The venue also provides a fond memory of her late father, who taught her to fish on Kangaroo Lake.
Her mother, Gayle Brunner, an artist, still owns the timeshare at The Rushes she purchased in 1985; they usually stayed in winter since they liked to cross-country ski. But every now and then they’d try to swap their week “so we can use the lake in the summer.”
Kangaroo Lake, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy and the Door County Land Trust, is located in the towns of Baileys Harbor and Jacksonport and was designated a State Natural Area in 2002.
With no public beach, it’s a peaceful area many choose to get away from the hustle and bustle of the bay side of the peninsula. That’s one of the reasons the Ellingsons—Katie and her husband, Steve, and their daughters Grace, 14, and Lilly, 9—love to vacation there, a tradition they started with their own family about eight years ago.
“We love the natural beauty of Door County, and I want my kids to experience nature’s beauty,” says Ellingson. The family usually visits Kangaroo Lake—renting a cottage on the “sunset” side—each Independence Day weekend, prime for their outdoor hobbies of boating, fishing and swimming.
“I can enjoy the simple pleasures with my kids, and the kids love fishing there,” says Ellingson. “One of the things I love are the sunsets.”
A Peaceful Place
While Kangaroo Lake may be the largest inland lake in Door County (1,156 acres), it is also the shallowest; the maximum depth is 12 feet, with most areas closer to 6 feet, according to Mary Gansberg, water resources management specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And it’s one of only three inland lakes on the peninsula; the others are Clark Lake and Europe Lake.
The lake gets its curious name from its shape, which resembles the Australian marsupial, with its head (North end), pouch or hands (mid-east side), and feet (south end).
Also notable about the lake is its causeway—now named County Trunk E—which was constructed across the northern third of the lake in the late 1800s.
The causeway separates the lake into two distinct parts—a highly developed southern portion and the northern end, which has almost completely escaped development due to the extensive wetlands.
A Ready Respite
While Kangaroo Lake fosters many fish, and the boating and swimming remain popular, many who flock to popular tourist areas like The Rushes resort in Bailey’s Harbor, right on Kangaroo Lake, prefer the setting for its quiet.
Ellingson and her family are hoping to make Kangaroo Lake a family tradition and possibly even retire there, purchasing a place on the lake someday.
“It kind of feels like you’re stepping back in time to a simpler way of life,” says Ellingson.
“I just can’t not go.”
There’s a good deal of interest in keeping Kangaroo Lake healthy and, in turn, a great tourism venue for both locals and visitors.
One entity charged with that is the Kangaroo Lake Association (KLA), which recently worked with The Nature Conservancy to continue its Fish Stick Partnership.
Fish sticks are woody habitat structures that utilize whole cut live trees grouped together and secured to the shoreline, helping to restore shoreline habitat. This is a “best practice” recommended by the Wisconsin DNR to create food, shelter and breeding areas for everything from small aquatic insects to frogs, fish, turtles, ducks and songbirds.
Volunteers place a “Fish Stick” complex of three cut trees perpendicular to the shoreline. The trees are crossed and secured to each other and to the shoreline with cable to prevent movement after the ice goes out, at which time they will sink into the lake.
The Nature Conservancy owns land on Kangaroo Lake and needed to “thin” their forest area, so this year, the KLA was able to place 23 trees, most Norway Spruce and Red Pine.
The KLA’s four-year efforts were helped this year by funding from the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, a leading environmental advocate for the waters of northeast Wisconsin.
According to the KLA website, “We reached a milestone in 2018 having placed our 100th tree in four years. We now have 28 ‘hosts’ with five sites having multiple three-tree complexes. The ice and weather conditions were perfect for our 18 volunteers who placed and secured the trees manually on the shoreline…90 percent of the life in a lake has its origins on the shoreline.”