Eight Projects Awarded Grants from Room Tax Revenue

First round of Community Investment Fund grants sends $325,251 to local projects

Eight projects were awarded grants ranging from $5,000 to $90,000 during the first grant cycle of Destination Door County’s Community Investment Fund. The grants totalling $325,251 – which go to projects that must benefit local residents as well as visitors to Door County – went to three municipal governments, the County of Door, and four area nonprofit organizations.

In January, Destination Door County (DDC) announced the Community Investment Fund grant program, which uses a portion of the revenue generated from the 8% lodging tax that visitors pay when staying overnight in Door County. DDC committed $847,000 to that fund in 2022, budgeted another $1 million for 2023, and added an additional $125,000 to it earlier this month to achieve almost $2 million for local projects.

The grants will be awarded four times annually. During its inaugural year, the first grant deadline was April 6, and DDC received a total of 14 applications, according to Julie Gilbert, DDC’s president and CEO.

“We’ve been working on this program in partnership with the Door County Community Foundation [which administers the grant program], and look forward to watching the funded projects come to fruition and make a positive impact on our community,” she said.

All awarded projects had to meet specific requirements in order to qualify for funding as is required by state statute for room-tax revenue.

The two projects that received the largest grants were:  

$90,000: Village of Sister Bay, for a multi-jurisdictional trail

This project is for a half-mile trail up the steep Highway 42 hill from Ephraim to Sister Bay. 

Julie Schmelzer, Sister Bay village administrator, said she met with officials from Ephraim, Gibraltar and Liberty Grove to brainstorm ideas on routes that could connect all four communities. She learned that Gibraltar would be connecting to Ephraim, and Ephraim would be running its sidewalks north of the village.

“But then, nothing,” Schmelzer said. “So we realized there was a small segment between Sister Bay and Ephraim that was in Liberty Grove, and if we connected that, then all four would be connected – all the way down to just north of Egg Harbor.”

Schmelzer contacted an engineer for some preliminary costs – no drawings have been made yet – to come up with the grant amount and then wrote the grant on behalf of the four municipalities. 

The off-road trail will require permission from six private-property owners, and the topography will make it “pretty tricky,” Schmelzer said. “It’s a pretty steep incline” that will require switchbacking. “Otherwise, we’d never be able to do it safely.”

This dilapidated bridge at Bayshore Blufflands Nature Preserve in Sevastopol crosses a wetland on the Door County Land Trust property. It will be replaced with a longer, more durable version thanks to a $75,000 grant the Land Trust received from Destination Door County’s Community Investment Fund program. Photo by D.A. Fitzgerald.

$75,000: Door County Land Trust, to replace a trail bridge at Bayshore Blufflands Nature Preserve in Sevastopol

At this Door County Land Trust (DCLT) property off Bay Shore Drive, there’s a small bridge that crosses a wetland area. This grant award will replace that bridge with a longer, durable version.

The existing bridge is dilapidated, and “it’s forcing people to walk through that precious little creek that occurs there,” damaging sensitive habitat, said Emily Wood, DCLT’s executive director.

“We’re in the process of having a wetland delineation created in that area so we know where that precious resource is located,” she said.

Wood said DCLT maintains a list of project priorities for its numerous properties around the county that enables its staff to act quickly when opportunities arise. 

“We were really excited when they announced this unique way of using room-tax dollars that come back to the community,” she said. “One of those requirements was that the project must serve both year-round residents and tourists. And they were really looking at tangible projects.”

The bridge replacement ended up checking all the right boxes. The grant award won’t cover the entire project cost – “all in, it will cost [around] $125,000, so we will bring matching support,” Wood said – but it goes a long way.

“We’re really excited to be able to move forward with it,” she said.

If all goes as planned, construction would begin this fall, and the bridge would open next year.

The remaining projects and grant awards are:

$45,551: City of Sturgeon Bay, for an aquatic weed harvester

$44,000: County of Door, for an ADA and intergenerational playground at John Miles County Park in Sturgeon Bay

$40,000: Door Community Auditorium, for a Blues, Roots & Jazz Festival

$15,700: Town of Gibraltar, for Phase II of the Fish Creek beach playground project

$10,000: Door County Historical Society, for restoration of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park

$5,000: Northeastern Wisconsin Antique Power Association, for a historical replica of the Valmy Service Station 

Be Prepared

There are two more opportunities available this year in the Community Investment Fund grant cycle, with deadlines of July 6 and Oct. 5. Eligible applicants include 501(c)(3) public charities, 501(c)(6) organizations, and local units of government.

Interested leaders of any Door County municipality or local nonprofit organization are strongly encouraged to schedule a meeting with the Door County Community Foundation to discuss their idea before submitting an application. Call the Community Foundation at 920.746.1786 or email [email protected] to schedule an appointment. To get details about the program, access an online application and review funding requirements, visit

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