More Ways to Connect to Nature: Teach by Example

Major environmental restoration project will show the way to restore degraded properties

Like thousands of national and state parks, federal and private preserves, and nature centers throughout the United States, Crossroads at Big Creek will be celebrating National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26. The Crossroads festivities will take place at The Cove Preserve, 817 S. 20th Place in Sturgeon Bay.

In March, the organizers of this nationwide event changed the 2020 theme to More Ways to Connect to Nature, which sums up the challenge that Crossroads has faced since COVID-19 forced us to alter our traditional programming.

For the past 19 years, Crossroads has offered experience-based education in traditional formats: school field trips, group nature hikes, research teams, work parties, lectures and workshops. In these times, how can our learning center offer education in different and COVID-safe ways?

Our solution? Teach by example in an outdoor setting.

For the next three years, Crossroads will focus on a major environmental restoration project of our 200-acre property to turn challenged lands into high-quality habitat for plants, animals and people. We hope to serve as an example to others who wish to restore degraded properties. On National Public Lands Day, we will showcase one of our initial efforts at The Cove Preserve.

Signs remind visitors of the work in progress.

Several years ago, The Cove property was slated for residential development, but thanks to the generosity of individual donors and foundations, Crossroads acquired the nine-acre parcel. Then Leadership Door County helped us to install a kayak landing on the site.

As the community found out about The Cove and its popularity grew – both for kayaking and wildlife observation – we raised funds for a parking area that allowed for drive-through kayak unloading. Construction on that is now finished, and the final step is landscaping.

For Crossroads, landscaping means ecological restoration: a chance to replace invasive and nonnative plants with those that contribute to a healthy, sustainable, nourishing environment. Ecological restorationists Nancy Aten and Dan Collins of Landscapes of Place were engaged to develop and carry out the restoration plan.

Our plan calls for establishing zones that mimic the landscapes of Door County, such as an upland hardwood terrace and a softwood terrace. It directs us to “create intermediate zones that are a bird sanctuary, wet meadow and dry meadow. Make the place feel intuitive, like you could paint it in your mind: ‘You are on a small rise in Door County, overlooking a small estuary.’”

Part of the plan includes planting 166 native trees and shrubs, so on Sept. 26, the Cream City Conservation Corps, along with Crossroads staff and interns, will engage in on-the-ground restoration work. This will also be National Public Lands Day, so we’ll host an open house during which the community can observe the restoration work in progress.

Stop by The Cove Preserve anytime between 10 am and 3 pm on Sept. 26. Twenty-minute “teach-ins” will take place at 11 am, 1 pm and 2 pm. Aten and Collins will present an overview of the plan and answer questions in a safe, outdoor, socially distanced setting. Take water bottles and snacks if desired, and please carry out all trash. Chairs will be available, but visitors may supply their own camp chair.

The kayak landing at The Cove Preserve. Photo by Terry Morris.

Archaeological research has been an important component of the Crossroads education program at The Cove. Door County middle school students have participated in supervised excavations that have revealed the presence of Native people for at least 2,000 years. During the open house, professionals from Midwest Archaeological Consultants will be on hand near the kayak landing to explain the ongoing Big Dig project, how artifacts help us envision the environment during prehistoric times, and reveal which plants and animals lived in and near The Cove in the past. Visitors may also sign up for our new, socially distanced Archaeology by Appointment program in October.

Friends of Crossroads will be at The Cove during the festivities to present finisher gifts to those who complete our Habitat Trail Challenge by hiking all four of Crossroads’ newly developed habitat trail loops. The gifts are either a native tree seedling from Evergreen Nursery, donated by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County; or a copy of Door County’s Wildflowers: A Field Guide for the Curious by Frances M. Burton and Aurelia M. Stampp, courtesy of the Burton family’s generosity.

The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society (DPAS), in collaboration with Wisconsin Space Grant and Crossroads, will conclude the day’s festivities with International Observe the Moon Night, 7 pm, at the Crossroads Astronomy Campus, 2200 Utah St. in Sturgeon Bay. Participants should dress warmly and supply their own folding chairs, blankets, binoculars or telescope (if they have them). DPAS members will offer green laser tours of the night sky and moon-viewing opportunities.

All activities are free and open to the public. Visit to learn more about the Habitat Trail Challenge and National Public Lands Day.

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