Tourism & the Visitor Economy: Caring for Door County

by JULIE GILBERT, President/CEO, Destination Door County

There is no greater power for change than a community discovering what it cares about. As a Community Shared Values organization, we strive to balance sustainability for our businesses, organizations and environment. 

Destination Door County’s board of directors, along with Tourism Zone commissioners, recognized the value of maintaining and preserving the natural environment and cultural heritage of our community. We have seen our local economy grow and provide more opportunities for our residents because of an increase in visitation, which has also put stress on our fragile natural ecosystem.

We understand the importance of investing in our community, along with the importance of the visitor economy. The Community Investment Fund – with the Door County Community Foundation as the administrator – is a natural evolution of Destination Door County’s work.

Using a portion of the room-tax dollars generated by visitors, the Community Investment Fund offers grants to local projects that not only benefit our visitors while they are here, but also help to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Door County.

The Wisconsin State Lodging Tax statute requires that we use room-tax dollars on projects that will be significantly used by visitors and must likely lead to an increase in visitors staying overnight in paid accommodations in Door County. These are the requirements of any application to the Community Investment Fund. However, to earn a grant from the Community Investment Fund, a project must also demonstrate how it will meaningfully improve the quality of life for residents of Door County. 

After our first grant cycle in April, eight projects were awarded grants ranging from $5,000 to $90,000. These grants will provide funding assistance to three municipal governments, the County of Door and four area nonprofit organizations.

The projects that received funding during this first grant cycle were:

• Village of Sister Bay: $90,000 for a multi-jurisdictional trail

• Door County Land Trust: $75,000 for the trail bridge at Bayshore Blufflands Nature Preserve

• City of Sturgeon Bay: $45,551 for an aquatic-weed harvester

• County of Door: $44,000 for an ADA and intergenerational playground at John Miles County Park

• Door Community Auditorium: $40,000 for a Blues, Roots & Jazz Festival

• Town of Gibraltar: $15,700 for Phase II of the Fish Creek beach playground

• Door County Historical Society: $10,000 for Eagle Bluff Lighthouse restoration

• Northeastern Wisconsin Antique Power Association: $5,000 for a historical replica of a Valmy service station

Two more grant-cycle opportunities will happen in 2023, with deadlines of Thursday, July 6, and Thursday, Oct. 5. Qualified applicants include 501(c)(3) public charities, 501(c)(6) organizations and local units of government.

We are also making a special investment of $800,000 in Door County’s parks. This is possible because of higher-than-anticipated room-tax collections in 2022, and this one-time funding allocation will be shared by municipal parks, county parks and state parks in Door County. We will be rolling out details in the next several weeks.

We cannot underscore enough the importance of taking care of the place we love. Care for Door County is the sum of all of our cultural, quality-of-life and eco-focused initiatives and the actions we can take to protect and care for the place we love.

Last fall, Destination Door County and Peninsula State Park jointly applied to Leave No Trace’s new Spotlight program, and we are tremendously excited to share that we have been selected as one of only 15 sites nationwide to be highlighted in 2023. 

As a result, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Spotlight Traveling Team will be in Door County June 8-10 to orchestrate events at Peninsula State Park that draw attention to community conservation, spread education and build momentum inspiring involvement for the future. To wrap up the weekend and to celebrate National Get Outdoors Day, join us on June 10 for a park-wide stewardship project. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

We hope that these Spotlight events encourage more conversations about community conservation and inspire action for the future of Door County. Read more about the program at

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions to help us continue growing in a positive direction.