History of Green Bay's Parks

Wildlife Sanctuary at Bay Beach


The main section below is the summary prepared by the Park and Recreation Department and has not been otherwise verified. Only annotated statements have been verified.

1929 - A little over 222 acres were purchased from John Marsh at $75 per acre. This was legally annexed to the City of Green Bay on July 16, 1929.

1930-36 - A five-acre tract was sold to the Green Bay Roller Coaster Corp. but was returned to the City by judgment of the court on default of tax payments. Supposedly this was an area between the amusement park on the water and the marshland.

The land was originally purchased for developing lagoons and a golf course but never carried out because of the depression and objection from the Shorewood golf course.

1935 - Chester Cole organized a small group of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts to obtain permission to dig (by hand) a small pond and put feed out to try to attract ducks.

1936 - A club was incorporated as the Green Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc. and charged a 50-cent membership fee. The NYA (National Youth Association) started clearing an area of undesirable vegetation and brush. Trees and shrubs were planted and a small duck shack constructed for tools. Several drives for funds were needed to keep the project going and donations of heavy equipment resulted in a pond of approximately 300 to 350 feet with about 1,500 feet of meandering stream.

1938 - The potential value of the Sanctuary was recognized by the community, and a full-scale WPA project was set up. Two Milwaukee locomotives, 4 switches, and 2,000 feet of 24-inch gauge rails were purchased for $1,760 to haul dirt from lagoon excavations in 10 dump cars. This was all disposed of in 1942.

1941 - A system of lagoons were extended throughout the 200-acre tract and left in its natural state. The lagoons were stocked with several thousand different species of fish, many of them mature enough to allow children to fish.

1945 - Licensed to trap muskrats and operate a fur farm.

1949 - Scout troops were allowed to camp overnight. Boat rentals began, and the fishing Rodeo was started in the playground program.

1950 - The shed formerly used for the WPA work was renovated and made into an observation room with thermopane windows for use by the public when observing the ducks and geese feeding in the main lagoon. Two motor-driven propellers were put in to keep about 150’ x 30’ area open during the winter. A third propeller was added later.

1953 - A Nativity scene was put in during Christmas by the Association of Commerce but moved to Fisk Park in 1955.

1955 - A dragline was used to clean out the lagoons.

1957 - A house was built for a permanent caretaker. Mr. and Mrs. Henry VanRyt were hired until 1960 when Elmer Pigeon was employed to replace them.

1960 - A petition was submitted to have the miniature train at the amusement park continued into the Sanctuary area, which the Park Board did not favor.

1961 - The observation building was improved.

1964 - Lavatories and a storage building were constructed, and also a new system installed to keep the lagoon area open for feeding during the winter season.

Luchow’s, a fancy New York restaurant, wrote inquiring about purchasing surplus deer from the Sanctuary to offer on their menu, but there were none available and the policy was for the buyer to catch and crate them for shipping.

1965 - New attractions were added such as a herd of Japanese albino deer and several black swans.

1966 - Request received to rename the Sanctuary in honor of Marshll Simonds (first Department Director) but it was turned down.

1968 - Construction of a new bird shelter and feeding building.

1969 - An outbreak of botulism killed off hundred ducks and geese precipitating a community effort to clean up the lagoons with dredging and draining to clean out the harmful bacteria infecting the birds. Tests were made periodically by MSD on water quality, and professionals from the University and DNR were called in for consultation.

1971 - Ty Baumann was hired as the first professional manager.

1972 - In June, the main feeding lagoon was reopened after extensive renovation such as road construction, pumping the lagoon dry and dredging out the sediments, bank stabilization or rip-rapping, and putting in culverts at key points of the lagoon network for a total cost of $30,992.

1973-88 - Over 337 acres were added to the Sanctuary complex with the aid of Community Development and LAWCON funds.

1975 - Three 6 ½ -month old timber wolves were obtained at a cost of $300 for shipping. A special compound was constructed to house them just west of the observation building.

1976 - A large glassed-in beehive was donated by the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association after the Council waived the ordinance prohibiting the keeping of bees within the city limits.

Observation building remodeled.

The Official Street Map was amended to extend the boundary east of the Sanctuary to the I-43 off ramp vicinity.

1977 - Forty-nine different species of birds were stolen from the Sanctuary-a substantial loss.

Negotiations with State Highway Commission, WPS, Wisconsin/Mich. Power Co. and West Shore Pipe Line Co. resulted in fencing south of the Sanctuary and an additional 40 acres at no cost to the City.

1978 - "Friends of the Sanctuary" organized.

1981 - The first organizational meeting to raise funds to construct a Nature Center was held in February.

In August a Use and Occupancy Agreement with the State Department of Transportation gave additional land to use for beautification and preservation of the natural habitat. This was remnant from the construction of an on-ramp off Webster Avenue interchange at Tower Bridge.

Late in the year an outbreak of botulism resulted in loss of 194 ducks in 3 days.

1982 - In January, an architect was hired to design a new Nature Center Building. A lease was signed with the "Friends" in July where the City agreed to maintain and operate the facility.

1983 - A cornerstone was laid in August.

1984 - During the summer, many improvements were made such as a new bridge, repairs to duck shack (donated by the Green Bay Duck Hunters Assn.) and inventory of same, trail work, etc. using WCC people and a $20,000 grant.

1991 - The Friends of the Wildlife Sanctuary purchased and donated land bordered on the south by I-43, on the west by the WLS, on the north by East Shore Drive and on the east by the off-ramp. Parcels 21-270 and 21-274, 7.79 acres from Leona Zehren. Parcel 21-270.7, .934 acres from Charles Alpert. Parcel 21-270.8, .6188 acres, from Len Seidl Realty. The Friends qualified for the stewardship program, which would pay for 50% of the appraised value of the property plus the appraisal costs. The City donated 25% of the cost ($62,206.25) to the Friends to help with the purchase.

1995 - The Gift Shop operations at the Wildlife Sanctuary were turned over to the Friends of the WLS. The Cattail Café was closed and vending machines were installed.

1997 - The Friends of the Wildlife Sanctuary successfully received $65,000 in pledges to construct an eagle exhibit next to the new Observation Building.

1998 - Operations of the Wildlife Sanctuary Gift Shop were transferred from the Corporate Board of the Friends of the Wildlife Sanctuary to the Guild Board.

1999 - KI offered to donate $50,000 per year for three years for naming rights to the WLS Observation Building Addition. The Kress Foundation donated $75,000 and WPS donated $75,000.

2000 - The Goose Task Force was established to find ways to determine a waterfowl management strategy to assist with the lagoon renovation project.

2001 - Staff began a hazing program to lower the number of birds at the WLS.

2001 - A $40,000 donation was received by the Friends of the Wildlife Sanctuary to construct a boardwalk between the Nature Center and Observation Building.

2003 - The building housing the Manager’s family was taken down and replaced by a log home designed to allow it to be used for other purposes in the future. It was funded by the Friends of the WLS.

2005 - The Friends of the WLS received approval from the Park Committee for the following projects funded by a large donation: construction of a storage building for equipment, exhibit parts and materials, a raptor flight enclosure to condition birds of prey and other birds for release back into the wild, and a walk-in freezer for storing deer carcasses to supply food for exhibit carnivores.

2005 - The Park Committee approved Phase 1 of the Lagoon Restoration Project including removing sediment and using it to cap the abandoned Danz Avenue landfill.

2007 - The Park Committee supported allowing the Friends of the Wildlife Sanctuary to continue with a water quality improvement project, including 3 mid-sized wells and cascading waterfalls to provide aeration. The Friends would fund the project and the City will support the operational costs of the wells.


Two small parks inherited from the Town of Preble were embedded in the expansion area, Antonia Park (0.752 acre) and George Park (0.085 acre); George Park was really just a traffic island located on Danz Avenue, just south of Nicolet Road at the intersection of Kalcik Avenue and Raphael Street 1 Antonia Park was south of Nicolet Road, west of Kentucky, and north of Kalcik Avenue. 2 That portion of Nicolet Road was later renamed East Shore Drive; Antonia Park would be directly across from the middle section of Lakeside Park. 3


1 Park Sites, Former Town of Preble, one undated Page 13 of some larger report. PRF file Park Areas: Preble Park.
2 Informal combined abstract for Town of Preble parks, handwritten version, dated 11/64; same information, typed version, undated; photocopies of covers from the actual abstracts, Northern Abstract Company, no date visible in the copies. PRF file CONSOLIDATION: Preble and Green Bay. (The typed version is also found in PRF file Park Areas: Preble Park.)
3 See the Brown County Geographic Information System, http://maps.gis.co.brown.wi.us/geoprime/; a PDF copy of the relevant portion of this map data was downloaded July 2, 2013.

For an additional source consider:
Linda Gregorson. "History of the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary". April 27, 1995. Student Paper #251. University of Wisconsin - Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center.

Only annotated statements have been verified. Any other historical statements are unverified and based on personal knowledge or informal notes kept by the Green Bay Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department.
Last update: July, 2013
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