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Stewardship and Sustainability in the Spotlight

Volunteers gathered at Nelson’s Point in Peninsula State Park to celebrate National Get Outdoors Day last weekend by weeding invasive garlic mustard, picking up trash and helping to create a new scenic path from Nicolet Beach to Skyline Road.

The community-stewardship event was held as a part of the park’s Leave No Trace Spotlight weekend, in collaboration with Destination Door County and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: a nonprofit organization centered in Boulder, Colorado, that focuses on promoting sustainable outdoor recreation and education. 

Peninsula State Park was one of 19 parks chosen as part of Leave No Trace’s Spotlight Program, which highlights parks across the country that have made a commitment to sustainability and conservation. As a winner of the grant, the park received three days of activation with the help of a Leave No Trace traveling team, Luke and Becca McGraw. 

Becca said they have been traveling with Leave No Trace full time for a year, camping and living out of a Subaru.They were in the Chicago area most recently, and they were heading to St. Louis after Peninsula State Park. Both Luke and Becca are former teachers, and Luke said they love being able to combine their passion for education and nature. 

“We just do really targeted Leave No Trace education,” he said. “We do a lot of public-facing stuff. It’s just to kind of build momentum, get people really excited about Leave No Trace, in whatever specific park we’re in.” 

The weekend’s events began last Thursday night with a social in Peninsula State Park’s Fish Creek parking lot that included yard games and refreshments from Backbone Food Truck and Sway Brewing Company. 

On Friday, Destination Door County and Leave No Trace held an educational pop-up beneath Eagle Tower, as well as organized hikes within the park. Morgan Rusnak, Destination Door County’s community engagement manager, said that by the end of the day, the Spotlight team had talked with about 300 park visitors. That evening, the McGraws hosted a campfire-safety demonstration in the White Cedar Nature Center. 

A key component of the weekend was stewardship – something the park has lacked recently, said Krista Lutzke, natural-resource educator for Door County’s state parks and a key organizer of the weekend. 

“With COVID, and with the lack of a naturalist for about three years, we lost our volunteer base,” Lutzke said. “So I saw that there was a ton of work that was necessary and needed to be done on the property, but we just didn’t have the capacity to do all that work.”

The Spotlight weekend came to a close with a National Get Outdoors Day stewardship workday Saturday morning. It was open to volunteers of all capabilities who helped to “blaze a new path” between the Skyline and Nicolet parking areas, which will eventually become ADA compliant. 

Lutzke said this event is just the beginning of new stewardship opportunities at the park. 

“From there, we’re going to have Workday Wednesdays or Work Wednesdays, and we’re going to have a continual opportunity for people to help us improve the park that they love so much,” she said. 

Both Lutzke and Rusnak organized the weekend after joining forces to successfully apply to Leave No Trace to be one of the Spotlight destinations. 

Destination Door County has partnered with Leave No Trace since 2020 – the first organization in the Midwest to do so – with Leave No Trace Tuesdays, a series of community-stewardship events held around the county between 2020 and 2022. 

Rusnak said Destination Door County has worked hard to incorporate sustainability awareness into its organization because tourism and sustainability go hand in hand – especially in high-traffic areas such as Peninsula State Park, which Rusnak said hosts roughly 1.3 million visitors a year. 

“Door County is so special,” Rusnak said. “It is a finite resource, and if we go too far over the threshold with too many people not treating this place properly, we can’t go back. So we are a part of making sure that our guests know how to treat this place.” 

After starting as natural-resource educator based in Peninsula State Park just nine months ago, Lutzke said she immediately saw a need for sustainability education such as the conservation awareness and education that was provided during the past weekend.

“It was super important to me that we remind people how to recreate responsibly, and give them the tools that they need to succeed to have a great time outdoors,” Lutzke said. “Peninsula State Park is the jewel of Door County in my opinion, and it is a great place to introduce people to Leave No Trace’s ethics, and share with them how they can camp and recreate responsibly.” 

Leave No Trace has Seven Principles, which Becca McGraw said form a framework for exploring nature sustainably. They include items such as minimizing waste and disposing of waste properly.

“The Seven Principles just help us minimize our impact when we go outdoors,” she said. “To help people plan for their trips, so they know how to do right by the environment while they’re outside and be considerate of others.”

Luke McGraw said Destination Door County and Peninsula State Park’s commitment to Leave No Trace made them great partners for the weekend. 

“They’re working really hard to make it part of the culture,” he said. “When you visit Door County, you know how to take care of it, which is really admirable.”