Open Spaces and Wild Places

Photo by Dan Eggert

At 421 acres, the Harold C. Wilson Three Springs Nature Preserve is the largest purchase ever made by the Door County Land Trust. When the Land Trust purchased the property in 2008, it represented the largest conservation project in Door County in over 40 years.

The Three Springs Nature Preserve is large in historical and ecological significance, too. It has a long association with the area’s natural history, and it preserves a key piece in a wildlife corridor that has been described as one of the premier natural landscapes of the western Great Lakes. It is a pivotal piece in a grand landscape of wilderness encompassing 17,000 acres from Three Springs south to The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. Big and wild though it may be, the preserve is located just two miles east of Sister Bay.

The springs and creek that meander through the property give the preserve its name, but more importantly these wetlands provide specialized habitat for rare plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species such as the Hines Emerald Dragonfly, Dwarf Lake Iris and spectacular Showy Lady’s Slippers. A newly erected viewing platform near the springs provides a serene place to sit and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.

The Door County Land Trust is challenging people to visit all of the places featured in this column. People are encouraged to email [email protected] when they accomplish this feat and to have their name entered into a drawing to win a copy of the Land Trust’s Guide to the Places We Protect due to be published this fall. To view previous columns, for more information on the Land Trust and to download preserve trail maps, visit

Just the Facts: The Door County Land Trust’s Three Springs Nature Preserve, Sister Bay

Acres protected: 421

Miles of trails: approximately 2 miles of easy to moderately difficult trails

Directions: From Sister Bay, take County Rd ZZ east about 2 miles. Past the intersection of County Road ZZ and Old Stage Road, turn right on Three Springs Lane. The entrance to the preserve is located at the end of Three Springs Road. Continue down the preserve driveway and turn west into the parking area.

Partnering organizations: the Knowles Nelson State Stewardship Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Wisconsin Land Fund and many generous individuals and families.

A Bit of History: The Three Springs property was first settled by the Franz and Edla Erickson family in the late 1850s under the Homestead Act. Franz arrived first and built a rudimentary cabin on the land; his wife and four of their children arrived later by steamboat from Chicago. The steamboat docked at Baileys Harbor and the family carried their luggage and belongings on foot to Three Springs. Mary Seaquist, the Ericksons’ eldest daughter, and her husband eventually took ownership of the property. In the 1950s, they sold it to Harold C. and Verna Wilson of the Wilson’s Ice Cream family in Ephraim. Harold ran one of the state’s first nature preserves at Three Springs. In the old Erickson barn, he displayed taxidermy specimens and kept tanks of live fish, snakes and reptiles. In a fenced area outside, cages held fox, wolves, coyotes, beaver, opossums, and sometimes a bear cub. Remnants of the Erickson family settlement and Harold Wilson’s Nature Center are still visible at the Three Springs Nature Preserve. Wilson sold the property to George and Jean Reynolds in 1970. The Reynolds family owned and stewarded Three Springs until selling it to the Door County Land Trust for permanent protection in 2008.