Ridges Sanctuary

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The Ridges Sanctuary is a nature preserve and land trust that is located in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin and was first established in 1937. The sanctuary protects over 1600 acres with various species of plants and animals on its wide range of land. The sanctuary allows people to visit four different areas with various sights and offers events as well.

Image of Hiking in the Ridges Sanctuary

History of the Ridges Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary was first created in 1937. The founding, and creation, of the sanctuary came after a decision by Albert Fuller, Emma Toft, Jens Jensen, and Olivia Traven. The U.S. Lighthouse Service had future plans for the lands that would later make up the sanctuary, so Fuller, Toft, Jensen, and Traven decided that the lands should be conserved and protected for future research that could be done on them. Upon its founding, the sanctuary was also recognized as Wisconsin’s First Land Trust, which would preserve the 40 acres of land that the sanctuary first began with. The four founders of the Ridges Sanctuary also came up with a “mission” statement(s) for the sanctuary, which are:

  • ”To acquire by gift, purchase, or otherwise, part or all of the real estate in the area of the town of Baileys Harbor;
  • To acquire and hold other pieces of real estate in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and to protect and preserve the native plant and animal life found thereon; and,
  • To carry on educational and scientific activities which will promote the cause of conservation.” [1]

This original mission statement has helped the sanctuary continue to grow in size and prominence to this day, where it now encompasses 1,600-acres of land, and has various designations and awards tied to its name and history.

After the founding point in 1937, the Ridges Sanctuary and its founders had unknowingly introduced a large movement and focus on the idea of conservation. According to the Ridges Sanctuary Website, the founding “created a ripple effect in Door County and set the stage for very important and effective future conservation efforts on the peninsula.” [2] Those future conservation efforts include: The Nature Conservancy, the Door County Environmental Council, and the Door County Land Trust, to name a few. Throughout the history of Ridges Sanctuary, it has also become a National Natural Landmark, an Important Bird Area, and a Wisconsin Natural State Area. Later, in 1967, the sanctuary was designated as a world heritage site, which the Oxford Dictionaries defines as “a natural or man-made site, area, or structure, recognized as being of outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving of special protection.” [3]

The name of the sanctuary, Ridges, comes from the topography its had throughout its history. Around the sanctuary, there is a series of 30 ridges and swales, which have been formed from the movement of Lake Michigan over the past 1400 years. These movements have caused a wide range of environmental conditions, among them being anywhere from an open beach to a very shaded forest.

An important piece of the history of the Ridges Sanctuary also includes the Range Lights, which include the Upper Range Light and the Lower Range Light. These lighthouses were originally built in 1869, and their purpose was to help guide income ships into the harbor safely. They have a specific arrangement, known as the range light configuration, which also serves the purpose of guiding ships in safely by assisting in navigation through shallow areas of water. The sanctuary honors these lighthouses by having a Lighthouse Festival each year in June, and is the only time to see the lights and lighthouses are open to the community. [4]

Research at the Ridges Sanctuary

Over the years, the Ridges Sanctuary has conducted different research projects. Whenever considering a research project, they consider the vision of the founders and current partners' opinions. The researchers included volunteers, staff, and students. Some of the different areas of research have included: Orchid Restoration Project, Watershed Study, Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, and Citizen Science.

Orchid Restoration Project

The Orchid Restoration project started in 2013 with the efforts of protected rare, native species of Orchids. They chose orchids because they are one of the largest species of flowers in the world, and there are many species of the plants that are now considered threatened or endangered. September 30, 2015, the Midwest Regional Orchid meeting was held and came up with a plan of protection for not only the Ridges but across the Midwest. In a special edition of Sanctuary, Orchid Restoration Project, it discusses the ten pieces it takes to make this a successful research project. These pieces include: seed banks, relation to Mycorrhizal Fungi, pollinators, propagation, greenhouses, Orchid restoration efforts, Ridges management plan, education, and student involvement. [5] From 2015 to 2016, the Ram’s Head Orchids went from a 45.7% to a 54.3% survival rate. The goal of this research is to create a native orchid recovery plan for not only The Ridges, but Door County and along the Door Peninsula as well. [6]

Watershed Study

The Watershed Study started in 2006 when researchers and students from UW-Green Bay worked on a study of water quality in the Sanctuary. The main goal was to get baseline data on what was all in Sanctuary’s surface and ground water which included metals, nutrients, and minerals. Water samples were taken, and what they found was that the Ridges Sanctuary had very good quality in both its surface and ground water. This study then allowed for future studies and provided something that the future water can be compared to. The Watershed study is important because of the plants and animal species that are dependent on this quality of water. [7] From then they have now began monitoring streams, sucker fish, culverts for watershed health all to research and protect the Sanctuary for future use. [8]

Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly

The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly is on the Federal endangered list, but most of their population is found in Door County. This specific study and the Watershed study coincide with each other to a point. In 2012 and 2013, the Sanctuary partook in a project to find the best management practices regarding the impact of groundwater conditions and their effect on the dragonflies. What they have discovered so far is that with the amount of time the Hine’s spend in the larval stage, they are dependent on the quality of groundwater. In 2008, the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey dedicated sites around Door County as “recharge zones”, which are groundwater contribution areas that help protect and manage these animals. [9]

Citizen Science

The Citizen Science is a program that offers volunteers the chance to help with smaller research projects that the Ridges Sanctuary hosts. The current programs that volunteers can partake in are: Christmas Bird Count, Flying Squirrel Nest Box Monitoring, Invasive Species Control, Midwest Crane Count, Monarch Tagging, Orchid Restoration Project, Phenology, Stream Monitoring, and Sucker Monitoring. [10] What this does is allows the public to get involved and see the process of how a research project works.

Animal and Plant Life at the Sanctuary

Within the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, there is a wide range of animal and plant species that have fostered and grown throughout the history of the sanctuary. These species continue to grow and prosper today.

Animals at the Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary contains various animal species, including reptiles, amphibians, and birds, which are the most common. Of the reptiles, the most common species is the garter snake, and can be found in a majority of the sanctuary. Among amphibians, the most common species are salamanders, of which there are three specific species of the salamanders: the Blue-spotted, Spotted, and Red-backed. Finally, as stated previously, there are almost sixty species of breeding birds within the sanctuary, and there are some who stay year round and some who go away for various seasons.

As far as the remainder of mammals go, there isn't a lot of information regarding mammals in the Ridges Sanctuary. There hasn't been a lot of research done in regards to mammal populations, which is a hope for the future of the sanctuary.

Plants at the Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary has an abundance of plant species throughout its 1600-acres of land, nearing around 500 species of plants. Within those 500 species of plants, there are also twenty-five species of native orchids and various types of trees including: black spruce, white spruce, balsam fir, and white pine. [11] The sanctuary also contains species of plants known as "glacial relicts" which are plants that originated after the last glacial period. Glacial relicts at the Ridges Sanctuary include: Lake Iris, Arctic Primrose, Labrador Tea, and Northern Spikemoss. [12] There are also more common plants, including Trailing Arbutus, Creeping Snowberry, Blue Bead Lily, Twinflower, and Bead Lily.

Although there are many other species of plants at the Ridges Sanctuary, the most well known and popular are all the species of orchids. The Ridges Sanctuary website highlights the various sizes, and references them ranging from smaller orchids, such as the Heartleaf Twayblade, to a taller orchid, such as the Showy Lady's-slipper. All plants are protected at the Ridges Sanctuary, considering it is a land preserve, but orchids are also paid very close attention to. The orchids on the Ridges Sanctuary are protected from damage, theft, etc. The orchids are protected so well because the locations of the more rare orchid species are withheld, and their location is only given to researches who are qualified to study or work with them.

Within The Ridges Sanctuary by Roy Lukes, the classifications of vegetations are described. Lukes discusses 15 different types of vegetation categories. These categories include: beaches, dunes, open ridges, shrubby ridges, shaded ridges, flooded swales, open swales, shrubby swales, shaded swales, boggy swales, boreal sedge meadows, sedge meadows, alder thickets, bracken-grasslands, and beaches on Moonlight Bay. [13] These various vegetation types have different types of plants that grow on them based on the conditions they evolve in.

Areas within the Sanctuary

There are many different areas to see within the Ridges Area that are open to the public. Most of the areas are open all year long, but some close for the winter season. These areas include nature trails, range lights, and a nature center.


There are many different trails that can be hiked that are a part of the Ridges Sanctuary. These trails include Appel’s Bluff, Logan Creek, Hidden Brooks, the Family Discovery trail, and the Sanctuary itself can be walked. All areas are in Bailey’s Harbor, except for Logan Creek. Appel’s Bluff has wooded trails and rock walls along Lake Nipissing. It is only open from May until October, but there are guided hikes all year long. Logan Creek is 170 acres and is along the Clark Lake shore line. [14] There is also the Hidden Brooks Boardwalk, which stretches three-tenths of a mile. This board walk connects the Nature Center with the Sanctuary trails and the Range lights. The Family Discovery trail is only open from June until October. [15] Here there are activity stations along the trail for kids to participate in. Lastly, the Sanctuary itself has many different trails and paths to take when walking on the premises. There are naturalist-guided hikes that take about two hours, but one can also go off and explore it alone. During winter, there is the option of snowshoeing the trails if the weather is permitting.

Range Lights

Another area of The Sanctuary is the Baileys Harbor Range Lights. There are two Range lights at the Sanctuary: upper and lower. Like mentioned in the History section, it’s one of the most iconic areas for the Sanctuary, and no trip is complete until these Range Lights have been seen. They are very easy accessible by following the trails on the Sanctuary itself.

Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center

The Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center was built in 2015. It is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental building in Door County. What the center does is allows for workshops, classes, and various of different groups to be hosted here. What the Nature Center Does is to provide exhibits on the history of the culture and nature of the Sanctuary. Along with the exhibits, the Nature Center is also home to the Nature Store, which is a small gift shop. The purpose of this building is to have a place where people can come together to support land preservation, to educate, and to do research work. [16]


Throughout the year there are many different events held at the Ridges Sanctuary. They have guided hikes daily through the summer months. They have events related to plants on the Sanctuary that can be create food. An example of this could be the Swales and Ales, which is a tour around the Sanctuary that discusses the plant life and what plants in and around Door County that can be used for brewing. They have days where people can come to make bat houses and days that they can make crafts to take home, like wreaths. [17] A popular attraction is the Door County’s Festival of Nature, which was first held in 2002. This happens in late May and celebrates the great biodiversity that Door County has to offer with various of activities around Door County. This event is coordinated by the Ridges. [18] All events are fun as well as educational for people of all ages.


The Ridges Sanctuary has been given various designations, awards, and certifications since it's establishment in 1937. [19]


The Ridges Sanctuary has been designated as:

  • A Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1953
  • A National Natural Landmark in 1967
  • A National Audubon Society Important Bird Area in 2007
  • A Wisconsin Wetland Gem in 2009
  • A Wetland of International Importance Under the Ramsar Convention in 2015


  • Harold 'Bud' Nordahl Land Trust Pioneer Award in 2012


  • Travel Green Wisconsin in 2013
  • Biological Field Station in 2013
  • LEED Gold in 2017


The Ridges Sanctuary is located at 8166 Hwy 57, Baileys Habor, WI 54202. You can reach them by phone at (920) 839-2802.

The Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center is located at the same address, and is open from 10am until 4pm.

The trails at the Ridges Sanctuary are also open daily, from dawn-dusk. There is a $5 fee to get in for adults, and no fee for members or people under the age of 18.


  1. Richmond, Drew. "Founders." The Ridges Sanctuary, 2016, www.ridgessanctuary.org/.
  2. Richmond, Drew. The Ridges Sanctuary, 2016.
  3. Oxford University Press, "World Heritage Site." Oxford Dictionaries, 2017, oxforddictionaries.com.
  4. The Ashbrooke, "Everything You Need to Know About The Ridges Sanctuary." The Ashbrooke, 13 May 2016, www.ashbrooke.net.
  5. The Ridges Sanctuary, Inc. “Sanctuary a Newsletter of The Ridges.” ‘’Special Issue Orchid Restoration’’, 2015, www.ridgessanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/RidgesFALL_Sanctuary2015.pdf.
  6. The Ridges Sanctuary, Inc. “Sanctuary a Newsletter of The Ridges.” ‘’Orchid Restoration Project’’, 2016, www.ridgessanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/Sanctuary_Fall2016.pdf
  7. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Watershed Study’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/research/stream-monitoring/
  8. The Ridges. “The Ridges Sanctuary.” ‘’The Nature of Research’’, 2014, www.ridgessanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/Ridges_ResearchBooklet_2014-2.pdf
  9. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/research/heinz-emerald-dragonfly/
  10. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Citizen Science’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/research/citizen-based-monitoring-program/
  11. Wisconsin DNR, "Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources." The Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin DNR, 19 Oct. 2017, dnr.wi.gov/.
  12. Lukes, Roy. The Ridges Sanctuary : Its History, Geology, Plants, and Animals / by Roy Lukes with Help from Timothy Byers and Olivia Traven ; Photography by Roy Lukes Unless Where Other Credit Is Indicated. 1988.
  13. Lukes, Roy. The Ridges Sanctuary, 1988.
  14. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Trail Map of the Ridges’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/Ridges-Trail-Map-Final.pdf
  15. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Hike The Ridges’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/visit-us/hike-the-ridges/
  16. The Ridges Sanctuary. ‘‘Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center’’, www.ridgessanctuary.org/visit-us/cook-albert-fuller-nature-center/
  17. The Ridges Sanctuary. “Event Calendar”, www.ridgessanctuary.org/events/
  18. Door County Visitor Bureau. “Travel Wisconsin. ‘’Door County Festival of Nature’’, www.travelwisconsin.com/events/science-and-nature-centers/door-county-festival-of-nature-40212
  19. Richmond, Drew. The Ridges Sanctuary, 2016.

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