What Do You Do In Winter?

In January of 1977, The Clearing began playing an important role in helping answer a question that’s often asked of those who live in Door County year round. The question? “What in the world do you people do in winter?” It’s a reasonable question, I suppose, since rural areas, especially those in the north, are often perceived by urbanites to have few social and cultural “opportunities” during winter.

While that may be true in some rural areas, those of us lucky enough to live in Door County and to stay for winter know that it’s far from true here. Yes, our dance cards might not be as full from November through April as they are from May through October, but there’s still a lot to do, a lot to see and a lot going on during the so-called “slow season” in Door County. The Clearing has played a vital role in this for the last 37 years.

So what happened at The Clearing in 1977 that would end up having such an impact on Door County winters? After all, by that time, The Clearing had already been in existence for 42 years. (Jens Jensen had established it in 1935.) Well 1977 was the year that a group of local folks organized and taught some classes that were held at The Clearing in January and February. A vibrant life-long learning program has grown from that.

The Clearing Winter Program, as it has come to be called, now offers over 100 classes each winter in the arts, fine crafts, humanities and natural sciences. About half of these classes are held at The Clearing, which is in Ellison Bay. The rest are held throughout Door County, in the homes, businesses and studios of instructors, in churches and in community centers. Potluck suppers are a Winter Program tradition. They are held every other Friday, and are important social events for The Clearing’s winter community. 150 or more students and instructors usually attend the potlucks.

The most remarkable thing about the Winter Program is that all of the classes have always been taught by volunteers. This is not only a testimony to the generosity of those living in Door County – their willingness to share their time and expertise – but to the incredible pool of talent that exists here. It’s hard to imagine another rural area anywhere that is home to so many talented people – artists, craftspeople, writers, poets, musicians, naturalists, historians, foodies and others. It’s one of the things that makes Door County so unique and such a great place to live.

There are new classes in The Clearing’s Winter Program every year. One of the exciting new classes being offered in 2014 is the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Certification class. The Clearing is collaborating with Peninsula State Park, The Ridges Sanctuary and the University of Wisconsin-Extension to offer this in-depth natural history training program.

Modeled after the Wisconsin Master Gardener program, which began in the 1980s, the Master Naturalist program includes 40 hours of classroom and field instruction on topics related to Wisconsin’s natural resources. Time will also be spent completing a project to practice the skills participants will need to be effective volunteers on interpretive, stewardship and “citizen science” service projects and activities.

Local naturalists and subject matter experts will serve as instructors. Those who complete the 40-hour class will then provide 40 hours of volunteer conservation-related service in the community and take eight hours of advanced training each year to maintain their certification.

The complete Master Naturalist Certification class description, along with descriptions for dozens of other classes, will be in The Clearing’s 2014 Winter Program catalog, scheduled to be mailed in late November. To get on the mailing list to receive a catalog, call The Clearing at 920.854.4088. Class descriptions will also be available on The Clearing’s Web site,

The instructors and students in The Clearing’s Winter Program represent something truly great about Door County: a community with a long tradition of having much to offer in all seasons. We look forward to helping continue this tradition in our 2014 Winter Program.

The Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc. is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County. October is National Arts & Humanities month. The Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance members would like to thank our volunteers, patrons, students and audience members for helping make Door County a vibrant arts community and destination.

This month, three Door County non-profit organizations will celebrate the arts and humanities and provide insight into their organizations and the community in the Peninsula Pulse.