Village of High Cliff, Wisconsin
Much of the land that the park occupies today was previously owned by the Western Lime and Cement Company, a still vibrant limestone operator in Wisconsin. Quarrying operations in the area date back to before 1870. Limestone was quarried, “cooked and crushed” for use in the construction of roads and buildings. Some of the lime was used for agricultural purposes. Kilns were constructed to process the limestone into mortar and slaked lime. A cooper’s shop supplied wooden barrels as shipping containers in the early years, until the ledge was nearly deforested.
The community of High Cliff, also known by many as “Clifton,” was a bustling village of approximately 250 people in its heyday. Company owned homes, several taverns, a church, school and blacksmith shop served the people well. A privately owned and operated amusement park and dance hall on top of the ledge provided visitors of all ages entertainment and fun. Paddle boats and steamers brought people from across the lake to picnic and dance. Work was hard and life was good.
The closing of the quarry operation in 1956, due to poor quality limestone at this location, was the beginning of the end for this once thriving town. All that remains of the operation are the abandoned quarries, lime kiln ruins and General Store building. The 1800’s General Store, constructed of bricks from the local brickyard and once owned and operated by Western Lime stands as a historical tribute as a museum and interpretive center.
When Western Lime closed in 1956, the State of Wisconsin took ownership of the land for the purposes of creating a state park in order to provide camping, hiking, picnicking, wildlife watching and lakeside fun for the citizens of Wisconsin. The foresight of a number of local citizens was instrumental in creating the High Cliff Forest Park Association in the early days of the park in the 1960’s. They worked tirelessly to raise funds and awareness to develop and improve the High Cliff site. Today, some of the main features of the park include the marina and all of the amenities found there, campgrounds, swimming beach, hiking trails – including handicapped accessible trails, a handicapped accessible overnight cabin, the General Store museum, Lookout Tower and Pavillion, and the many scenic trails and places within the park.
From the vantage point of the limestone cliffs and even further above on the Lookout Tower in the Upper Park, visitors can see for more than 30 miles to the north, west, and south.
The forest, composed largely of maple, hickory and oak covers most of the upland area of the park. A good hickory nut crop occurs each fall.
Many animals call High Cliff their home including mammals such as white-tailed deer, red and gray fox, racoon, squirrels, opossum and coyote. There are approximately six snake species present. Tree frogs and katydids liven up most summer nights during the peak camping season.
The park is a notable place to view dozens of turkey vultures all summer long as they soar above the ledges and along the lakeshore. Other notable bird species include purple martins, bluebirds, osprey, owls, hawks and a wide variety of songbirds and warblers. Waterfowl move in and out of the park in the spring and fall in large numbers.