Discovering Nature at the Ridges

Evergreens at Ridges Beach

Evergreens at Ridges Beach

My footsteps resound softly on the boardwalk. A whiff of pine catches in my nostrils. The trickle of water and distant chirping of birds are the only sounds I hear. The wooden path curves, and I follow it out into the swale. The path ends, but here in the middle of this peaceful wetland the view does not. Orange leaves peak over green pines. It is quiet and difficult to believe I am so near the town of Baileys Harbor. Protecting and preserving this uncommon landscape of low ridges and valleys is the reason for the Ridges Sanctuary.

An out-of-town friend first introduced me to the Ridges Sanctuary when he visited and wanted to check out its small “lighthouse.” We visited the light and took pictures but did not venture further into the preserve.

On a beautiful Sunday morning a few weeks ago my husband and I decide to do the Ridges right. We stop at the nature center, reading up on the rich history of the sanctuary and its founders. We venture down the boardwalk, eyes open for the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, an endangered species found primarily in the Ridges’ wetlands. We see no green dragonflies, though I do spot a red one.

Less than half of a mile up the boardwalk, the wooden walkway comes to a T. To our right just less than 500 feet away on a perfectly straight path is a small rectangular  lighthouse. This is the lower range light I have seen only from the road. To our left is a building resembling a schoolhouse but which also appears to have lighting capabilities from its upper-level window. The roof has recently been painted an insistent red. To our delight, the docent is about to start a tour, so we join a group to walk through this nineteenth-century navigational structure and home. The tour is simple and straightforward; the building is undergoing a renovation to restore it to its early twentieth-century bones. We get a clear picture of the life a lightkeeper would have led here, hauling fuel to feed an open flame at all hours of the night. Despite their antique status, the range lights are still in operation today; boats could line up their red and white lights to find safe passage into the arbor. The icing on the cake is the view from the light tower, a perfectly straight shot to the lower light and Lake Michigan beyond.

Ridges boardwalk

Ridges boardwalk

After the tour we wander a bit more. We pass volunteers who have gathered to do some outdoor work on this beautiful fall day.

We make our way across Ridges road and follow the trail to the lake. The tamarack trees are just turning yellow, contrasting beautifully with billowing clouds and a bright blue sky. The surf is up in the harbor, and two kite surfers are taking advantage. They fly back and forth along the shoreline, occasionally lifting from the water and actually travelling yards completely airborne.

On our way back to the car, we pass a small group of hikers with a guide. We had passed them earlier; they are taking their time. The guide is pointing out little secrets of the flora that anyone else would have missed. They are engrossed in the conversation and barely notice us as we pass. I make a mental note to come at 10 a.m. and join the Ridges’ daily guided hike, a two-hour educational experience.

The spaces of Door County leave plenty to be discovered. Unexpectedly one of the most interesting is nestled right in Baileys Harbor.

Planning a visit to the Ridges and the Blacksmith Inn? Check availability for your dates here.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Walkable (289 ft.)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: $5 day fee for non-members, $8 for a guided hike