The Ridges

The Ridges Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary: Explore Door County’s Ecosystem

Ecotourism is the thriving movement that has swept across the country and has been in the minds of Door County’s forefathers and mothers for decades. As our county has grown, we’ve kept a very close-knit relationship with our beloved landscape and what we can do to sustain it. There are endless possibilities for exploring on our remarkable peninsula and today we’re exploring The Ridges Sanctuary.

Located on the northern end of Baileys Harbor’s downtown corridor lies an unassuming forest that has been making quite a name for itself over the past few years. The Ridges Sanctuary boasts over five miles of trails and boardwalks exploring sixteen hundred acres of swales and ridges, two lighthouses and hundreds of species of flora and fauna. The brand new Cook-Albert Fuller Center serves as the trailhead that welcomed over 17,000 visitors seeking a natural experience unlike any other in its first six months being open in 2015. It was here that I met with Executive Director Steve Leonard this week to discuss just how The Ridges Sanctuary exists and embraces the natural side of tourism.

The Ridges are one of the most biologically diverse areas in the state boasting safe habitat for dozens of species including endangered and threatened species like the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, Dwarf Lake Iris and Dunes Thistle. Children and adults alike find themselves getting lost in a world almost completely untouched by time once they enter the trail system. My husband and I took the afternoon to check out some of what The Ridges has to offer.

After checking out the lighthouses, we opted to head onto the walking paths heading deeper into the Sanctuary on the Wintergreen Trail. The path was sandy but seemed to be in the middle of the forest, covered in tracks of animals and visitors existing at once. There were towering trees, chattering squirrels, and a cool breeze off Lake Michigan. After walking a bit, we came to a bridge spanning out over Cowslip Swale. These swales are the low wet areas in between the sandy ridges running parallel to the shoreline and extending about a mile inland. We took a moment to stand on the bridge looking out over the swale and listening. You couldn’t hear anything but the sound of the wind and waves. We snapped a couple of photos to share with you and continued on our hike. We explored a couple other trails before it started to get dark and headed back to the car.

If you find yourself visiting Baileys Harbor, The Ridges Sanctuary is a must see! Their outlook on ecotourism and sustainability is second to none. I’m including some projects that they are currently working on. If any of them interest you, be sure to ask about them at the Center. The staff and volunteers are friendly and helpful, taking great pride in what The Ridges represents.

There are literally hundreds of opportunities to explore Door County while keeping with the ecotourism principles. Sunning yourself on the sandy beaches, harnessing the wind while kiteboarding, or hiking the trails of one of our state, county or town parks, just to name a few. We try to do at least one “adventure” every weekend. My daughter likes to call them “Adventures with Andrea!” I feel incredibly honored that we get to raise her in such a unique environment that allows us to have the outdoor life that we do.

I’ve included some great ones that we’ve found so far.

  • Hike on some of the thousands of acres of protected lands and nature preserves including Door County Land Trust, Nature Conservancy, The Ridges Sanctuary, town/county/state parks or DNR lands. It’s a great way to see some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the country and learn about these species.
  • Spend the day playing in the sand and swimming in our crystal clear waters. Each village and town has different beaches providing everything from the best rock skipping beach like School House Beach on Washington Island or the protected sandy cove at Nicolet Bay in Peninsula State Park to the picturesque Anclam Beach in Baileys Harbor providing 360 degree views of the harbor.
  • Take a class or guided hike at The Ridges Sanctuary or even some of our educational centers to hear stories of lighthouse keepers, endangered and threatened species, or the flight patterns of seasonal bird species.
  • Kayak one of the many inland waterways or shorelines to discover lighthouses, the Niagra Escarpment, or massive estuaries.
  • Participate in one of the many running or bicycling races while taking in the natural scenery around our back roads. There’s no better way to acquaint yourself with an area like getting off the highway.