The Sleeping Jewel of Door County

Tucked off of Highway 57 in Baileys Harbor is The Ridges Sanctuary, a beautiful haven for some of the most diverse species of Wisconsin flora and fauna. The sanctuary is a National Natural Landmark, Wisconsin State Natural Area, National Audubon Society Important Bird Area and has been called the most biologically diverse area in Wisconsin. However, it has also been described as the “Sleeping Jewel of Door County.”

Although the sanctuary holds many distinctions in the ecological world, it is still ‘asleep’ as far as the larger community is concerned. Executive Director Steven Leonard said that “We need to figure out a way to develop more awareness of The Ridges” in the community.

In an effort to help raise awareness about The Ridges, the staff is hosting a program entitled “A Walk through The Ridges” on September 11. In collaboration with Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT), The Ridges will bring in Larry Meiller and Shelley Ryan. There will be guided walks through the sanctuary starting at 3 pm, given by Meiller, Ryan and staff tour guides. At 5 pm at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall, Larry Meiller will recreate his radio program, Meiller and Ryan will answer questions and Ryan will share a few of her most embarrassing moments from television. Prizes and light refreshments will round out the event.

Meiller is the host of Conversations with Larry Meiller, a program on WPR’s Ideas Network that addresses topics in gardening, environmental issues, consumer issues and “how-to” topics. Ryan is the producer and host of The Wisconsin Gardener, a program in which Ryan visits notable gardens and gives tips for Wisconsin gardeners. Ryan recently taped an episode of her program at The Ridges that will air in September.

The “Walk through The Ridges” program was started through brainstorms between Ridges staff and Caleb Whitney and Kristen Peil – both landscape gardeners – about how to develop a connection between the natural world and landscape and gardens. Since gardens are a way that many people relate to nature, a program such as “A Walk through The Ridges” is an effective means to bridge the gap between the residential and the natural and reach many people.

Leonard and the rest of the staff hope that this program will be a jumping off point for The Ridges to become more of a presence in the community and that similar programs will take place in future years.

“This is the first time we’re doing it, based off of working with Wisconsin Public Radio and Television, but we’re hoping to continue to have other ‘open house’ programs in the future,” said Leonard.

For now, The Ridges is trying to figure out how they fit into the larger community. As Leonard stated, “I guess what we’re trying to figure out through this thing is, where is The Ridges’ niche in all of Door County?”

Leonard said that it is important to protect The Ridges and that “the only way we’re going to do that is by developing that understanding, and that understanding is going to come from a strong research program to develop that knowledge and then take that knowledge and develop strong education programs.”

The people at The Ridges are working to obtain longevity as well. As Leonard said, “[Community involvement with The Ridges] has to be multi-generational…we need to find a way to make sure that it [The Ridges] is always here.”

For Door County resident Sue Jarosh, The Ridges is a legacy that holds importance for her both personally and as a Door County resident. “The Ridges is a part of our family heritage; it’s a part of Door County’s heritage,” she said. With glimmers of hope like Jarosh and her family to encourage them, the staff at The Ridges is continuing to work to educate others about The Ridges’ place in Door County’s history and present day in hopes that the knowledge that they impart will help to preserve it into the future.

For Leonard and others who love The Ridges, programs like “A Walk through The Ridges” are a way for The Ridges to “wake up” and for the community to come to realize what a jewel the sanctuary truly is.

The Ridges Sanctuary is located at 8288 Highway Q in Baileys Harbor. “A Walk through The Ridges” is a free event and open to the public, though reservations are required. For more information, call 920.839.2802.