Crossroads at the Center

Door County is known nationwide for its historic villages, open spaces, bright night skies, and rich ideological and cultural life. But few places bring all these disparate phenomena together as effectively as Crossroads at Big Creek, a research center dedicated to exploring issues of science, history, and the environment.

Crossroads was founded 10 years ago as a school forest by the Sturgeon Bay Educational Foundation, but five years ago it separated from the school system and became a private, donor-supported organization.

The location’s many facilities include an observatory, a lecture hall, a historic village, and an astronomy center featuring a planetarium. Situated on 115 acres on the edge of the city, Crossroads also offers a wild area with trails open to the public, aimed specifically at allowing children to enjoy nature freely, without structure – what center director Coggin Heeringa (who last year was named Environmental Citizen of the Year by the Door County Environmental Council) calls “green play.”

Crossroads serves children extensively but not exclusively, attracting a wide range of people from Door County and elsewhere. Door County schools can (and do) use Crossroads resources free of charge. Organizations like Wild Ones and Master Gardeners all meet and host events at Crossroads. Local teachers take environmentally oriented classes at Crossroads through UW-Green Bay. And Crossroads collaborates with the Ridges Sanctuary, the Door County Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and The Clearing to gather, discuss, and disperse information about environmental issues.

Heeringa cites poor water quality and invasive species as the most threatening environmental issues facing Door County. In an attempt to improve the county’s environmental health on both of these fronts, Crossroads hosts UW-Oshkosh students as they test Door County water for E. coli. The center also conducts research on alternative septic systems based on waste produced by the research center. And the Door County invasive species team meets at Crossroads weekly.

Despite the environmental challenges facing the Door Peninsula, Heeringa is optimistic about the future of the county’s nature and wildlife.

“Judging from the young people I work with, I think there’s more of an environmental ethic than there used to be. I really have hope for the future,” she says.

But she is careful to point out that the fight for environmental protection is far from over and that Crossroads at Big Creek will do its part.

“We have an uphill battle ahead,” she says. “Anytime you put in a septic system, anytime you plant a tree, anytime you put a culvert in the road, it’s just imperative that we think of the consequences before we do anything. We live in this beautiful place. We’ve got to take care of what we have and protect it.”