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The Politics of 298 Miles of Shoreline

For years folks have been proudly saying that Door County has more miles of shoreline than any other county in the United States. If you search through articles online you can track the shoreline’s apparent growth. It was first listed it at 250 miles, 300 miles, and now, most of the recent articles claim “more than” 300 miles of shoreline.

We all know that the confluence of our environmental beauty and cultural amenities are the major reasons why visitors come to spend time with us each year. So our shoreline is no small matter. It’s an important part of both our identity as a community and a driver of our economy.

In a July article in the Peninsula Pulse, Myles Dannhausen, Jr. put an end to the discussion of just how much shoreline we have by interviewing Mariah Goode, the director of the Door County Planning Department. Goode calculated that Door County has 298 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

While that certainly is a lot, the statistical geek in me had a hard time believing that of the thousands of counties in the United States, our 298 miles of shoreline is the most you’ll find. On a whim, I started doing a little homework and shared what I found with Dannhausen, who asked that I write up my amateur research in an article for the Peninsula Pulse. My quick and overwhelming reaction was “absolutely not.” I didn’t want to be the person who shattered the myth.

Cave Point Door County

The Door County shoreline, like this stretch at Cave Point County Park, is a treasured resource, regardless of comparisons. Photo by Dan Eggert.

As I pondered Dannhausen’s request over the next several weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder what my immediate visceral reaction said about me, or really society in general. So if you’ll bear with me as we pour through the statistics, perhaps you’ll find something relevant in what I learned about myself.

To begin, Hawaii has got us beat. The County of Hawaii (the Big Island) has 313 miles of shoreline while the County of Maui (the islands of Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i) have 343 miles. This shouldn’t be all that surprising because Hawaii is, after all, just a collection of islands.

Alaska is another place you might expect to have a county to challenge us. It’s difficult to find official statistics for the individual boroughs (their version of a county) of the largest state in the United States. But we do know that statewide, they have nearly 34,000 miles of total shoreline divided over 18 boroughs. It’s hard to see how the North Slope Borough or the Aleutians could possibly have less shoreline than our 298 miles in Door County.

Yet we must remember that our 50th and 49th states are not a part of the continental United States. Perhaps we should just set those aside and restrict our search to counties on the mainland.

The numbers in New York are a bit of a surprise. Suffolk County covers about two-thirds of Long Island and is home to the Hamptons, which can be found on one of that county’s two peninsulas. A New York State report on coastal erosion calculates the total shoreline of Suffolk County as 980 miles.

Door County is often referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” So we shouldn’t be surprised if Barnstable County, Mass., home to the actual Cape Cod, has more shoreline than we do. It’s hard to find an exact number for that county, but estimates range from 550 miles to 585 miles of shoreline.

In a little more than an hour of sitting in front of a computer, I found a number of places with more shoreline than Door County. Some of which have several times more. I’m no cartographer so it may be that there are many additional counties that I didn’t find which also have more shoreline than we do.

My initial reluctance to write about this was because I didn’t want to be the one to publicly disprove our treasured myth and show that Door County does not have the most shoreline of any county in the United States. But what does that say about our society when we worry about how people might react to knowing the truth?

Why does appreciating what we have only become legitimate when we compare it to others? Does the fact that the actual Cape Cod has more shoreline than we do in any way diminish the beauty of a sunset at Peninsula State Park? The sea cliffs of Moloka’i are impressive but they don’t stop me from enjoying the incredible rock formations of Cave Point. The Hamptons may be charming, yet I still love walking along Whitefish Dunes on a Saturday morning.

We don’t need to diminish other places in order to appreciate what we have. The beauty of Door County should be treasured for what is, not ranked relative to someplace else.

Door County’s shoreline is magnificent. Our scenic views are majestic. And our sunsets should be exalted as a gift from heaven above. And there are places in the United States with more shoreline than Door County. The truth of that fact does nothing to diminish the beauty of the community we all love.

Bret Bicoy is President & CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. In 2008, he and his wife Cari returned to Wisconsin to raise their six children in the community they love. Contact him at [email protected].