For Laurel Hauser, the new interim executive director of Crossroads at Big Creek, taking the lead at the preserve on the edge of Sturgeon Bay was a natural fit in more ways than one.
“Our family has loved Crossroads and been users of Crossroads forever,” said Hauser, a former Sturgeon Bay Common Council member and a former editor of the Washington Island Observer who joined the nonprofit nature preserve and learning center as its assistant director last year, then ascended to the post of interim director in June.
In May, the organization announced a leadership transition, elevating Hauser to interim executive director and shifting longtime director Coggin Heeringa to program director and naturalist. Heeringa was the first staff member of Crossroads when she was hired as executive director in 2001 and was its only staff member until 2017.
Under Heeringa’s leadership, Crossroads has grown from 60 acres on one preserve to nearly 200 acres spread over three preserves: Big Creek, The Cove and Ida Bay. Crossroads has also expanded its programming, welcoming students from every area school and offering educational opportunities such as archaeology and astronomy.
“I am confident that Laurel will successfully lead us into the future, and I’m pleased that I can continue to do what I love: biological research and developing and offering programs for learners of all ages,” Heeringa said.
“Coggin instills a love of nature and is really a master at engaging kids and adults,” Hauser said. Though programs have been limited since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in March, Heeringa is offering Nature by Appointment, during which individuals, families, or two or three friends can participate in a 45-minute, private, socially distanced outdoor nature program with a naturalist.
This month, Hauser and Crossroads are also inviting visitors to experience the preserve in new ways with a freshly unveiled trail map that guides people through four experiences: field, forest, meadow and creek. Each is outlined as its own loop within the 200-acre preserve, and the map informs visitors about the wildlife and habitat they’re exploring.
“There’s so much variety here that people feel like they can come here and have a different experience each time,” Hauser said.
Artist Laura Congdon of Mayville, Wisconsin, created the habitat trail maps to enable people to craft their own Crossroads experience.
“The maps give people the context of the property in a way we’ve never had before,” Hauser said. “It gives you a deeper level of appreciation for the property. When you have half an hour, just come and decompress at the end of the day, and immerse yourself in nature.”
“We have people who use this preserve almost every day,” Hauser said. “It’s funny how many people say they think about this place as their own private preserve.”
But until now, the trails haven’t been marked or explained in maps in great detail for those who are doing their own exploring. Despite its popularity among devoted users, many residents and visitors still aren’t aware of the preserve, located on the corner of Highway 42/57 and Michigan Street, on the corner opposite the Sturgeon Bay YMCA branch.
Visitors can find the maps at the Collins Learning Center, which is the auditorium at the entrance to the property. The Crossroads grounds are open 24/7 at no charge. Dogs are allowed on a leash, and during the winter, Ski for Free programs allow people to explore trails by ski or snowshoe.