Katie Krouse named director of The Ridges Sanctuary
Near the end of Katie Krouse’s first summer working at The Ridges Sanctuary, she had what she thought was a simple question for her coworkers.
“I kept asking people what my last day was,” she recalled. “Nobody could tell me.”
Nearly nine years later, both she and the organization are glad they didn’t have that answer.
On June 1, Krouse will rise to the top job at The Ridges when she takes the executive director reins from Andy Gill, who has served as the interim executive director for two years.
“I have to applaud Katie for everything she has done for this organization,” Gill said. “As I transition from director to a new role, and as a donor and member, the person I want to be leading this organization is Katie.”
Krouse said she’s honored to be trusted with the story of The Ridges Sanctuary, a 1,600-acre preserve founded 87 years ago by a group of people who were dedicated to preserving one of the most unusual wildlife habitats in the Midwest.
“I am so excited to continue to be a part of this organization,” Krouse said. “Somebody took a chance on me eight or nine years ago, and the organization is still choosing to take a chance on me. It’s a really awesome story to tell and share and be a part of.”
Gill and his family will be moving to the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, but he will remain with The Ridges to steer the implementation of its new master plan and capital campaign. For Krouse, the setup with Gill staying on in a development and long-term-strategy role is ideal.
Working with Gill and the board during the past two years as The Ridges’ assistant director has also allowed her to learn about the inner workings of the organization and its history, and how to navigate a period of major change. In June 2022, that included purchasing the Ridges Inn & Suites in what Gill called “a monumental moment in the history of The Ridges.”
Less than a year later, the boldness of that decision has been matched by the generosity of the organization’s supporters, who have enabled The Ridges to pay off the $1.2 million note on the property. The 1.99-acre parcel that is enveloped by long-established Ridges lands includes seven buildings with 24 units and a home.
The decision to buy the parcel instigated an in-depth, yearlong master-planning process that included staff, members and community partners to evaluate land use, programming, research and partnership opportunities.
“We had a lease with the previous owner to operate it as a hotel for a year,” Gill said. “We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do with the Ridges Inn property, but had a lot of great ideas. And we knew that if we didn’t get it right, it could become a sore spot in the history of The Ridges.”
The board embarked on the master plan in part to coalesce around a future for the new property, but also to answer several key questions about the role of The Ridges in the larger community.
“What does The Ridges mean to people?” Gill asked. “What does this organization mean to the community, and what does this organization need to do to support this community?”
The answers to any question about how The Ridges will evolve to meet growing demands and expectations are always centered around the core of the preserve’s founding principle: preservation. Gill said that was a sentiment he heard in public forums, in the office and on the trails that connect the famous ridges and swales that inspired its name.
“Don’t forget about nature,” people told him. “Don’t forget about that story of Albert Fuller saving the original acreage. And we can’t,” Gill said. “The goal of the master plan is all grounded in the preservation of what we currently have. What we’re really trying to do is manage the visitor experience so that they’re learning, but we’re also mitigating their impact on this really sensitive and unique habitat.”
The master plan is in the process of board review, and Gill and Krouse hope to unveil it to the public May 26, during the keynote kickoff of The Ridges Sanctuary’s Festival of Nature.
From there, Gill will shift into his new role guiding its implementation, and Krouse will step up into her role as the first woman to lead one of the most proud and revered organizations on the peninsula. Her last day, it seems, is now up to her.