Get away this spring and see the beauty of Door County come to life. There’s no better time to visit than during our Season of Blossoms where you can get exclusive vacation packages to make your trip even more enjoyable.
With a rich maritime history, it should come as no surprise that Door County is home to numerous lighthouses. With many built in the 1800s, the 11 lighthouses dotting our 300 miles of shoreline each has a unique history of its own. While they've saved the lives of countless shipmates, sailors and fishermen, today, they stir hearts as symbols of strength and protection. Learn more about these beacons.
Beacons of Light
Located on the north end of Rock Island State Park, Door County’s oldest lighthouse is open daily during the summer and can be accessed by boat or the “Karfi” ferry. The inactive lighthouse was rebuilt in 1858 and automated in 1956.
Old Baileys Harbor Light
Built in 1852, this unusual structure features a bird cage lantern room and is located on an island near the town of Baileys Harbor. The privately owned lighthouse was abandoned in 1869 when the Range Lights in Baileys Harbor were built.
Pilot Island Lighthouse
Built of Cream City brick in 1858 and automated in 1962, this lighthouse was ordered constructed by President Buchanan. Today, the structure is in need of repair and is only visible by water. The Coast Guard owns this property.
Chambers Island Lighthouse
Located on the northwest corner of Chambers Island, this lighthouse is only accessible by boat. It was established in 1868 and automated in 1961. Visitors can tour the area and visit the museum inside.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
This lighthouse is perched on a bluff above Green Bay and can be accessed for viewing or tours easily by Shore Road in Peninsula State Park. Three keepers manned the light until 1926 when the navigational mechanism was automated.
Cana Island Lighthouse
One of Door County's most iconic lighthouses, the Cana Island Lighthouse was established in 1869 and automated in 1944. The Cana Island Lighthouse and its museum are open for tours from May to October.
Baileys Harbor Range Light
Between 1869 and 1969 these range lights were used by navigators to safely enter Baileys Harbor until they were replaced by a directional signal. The Ridges Sanctuary restored both range lights in 1993. The grounds are open to the public.
Canal Station Pier-head Lighthouse
This impressive red structure is located at the fully operational U.S. Coast Guard station. The Pier Head navigation light was built in 1882, a tower and station were built in 1899, renovated in 1903 and automated in 1972.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Having been automated in 1993, this was the last manned lighthouse on the U.S. Great Lakes and can be toured during the Lighthouse walk in June. The rest of the year, the facility is a rest and recuperation area for active members of the U.S. military.
Plumb Island Range Light
Located between the peninsula’s tip and Washington Island, the lights guide safe passage through “Death’s Door.” You can see the rear range light tower, keeper’s dwelling, and fog signal building from the Washington Island ferry.
Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light
The Canal Station Light Tower, located on the northern bank of the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, was built in 1899 and automated in 1972, the Coast Guard operated station can be seen during the Annual Lighthouse Festival in June.
Interview with a naturalist
Naturalist Kathleen Harris has been giving people a deeper understanding of the nature and history at Peninsula State Park for nearly 20 years. Since arriving at the park in 1998 she has been in charge of organizing an average of 200 programs for more than 12,000 participants each year. The programs run the gamut, including bat watching, guided hikes, historical presentations, cemetery tours, butterfly tagging and much, much more.
We caught up with Harris to get a peek into the life of a state park naturalist, how she chose her path, and one of her favorite spots to visit in the park this spring.
Q: What do you like most about working in Peninsula State Park?
A: The complexity of this property. At Peninsula I think we protect the largest tract of the Niagara Escarpment in the state of Wisconsin, but we have over a million visitors. We still have these rare ecosystems and habitats here, so it’s a great challenge to balance that. The nuances in the park and the contradictions in the park offer so many possibilities. There’s always something new to learn and try.
Q: What inspired you to become a naturalist?
A: I did not start out wanting to be a naturalist. I got my degree in history and sociology from Miami of Ohio in 1981, and I wanted to backpack around Europe, so I needed a summer job to make money. I worked at a camp catering to children in need of social work near Sleeping Bear Dunes by Traverse City, Michigan. I always enjoyed working with kids, but especially in an outdoor setting, and that experience really inspired me to want to do this, so I went and got my masters degree at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. I feel really privileged to have landed in a field that I’ve really enjoyed.
Q: What does the job of a naturalist entail?
A: At Peninsula, the full-time naturalist might do so many things. There’s so much that goes on in running a park. In winter, I edit and pull together the visitor guide, signage, brochures, website. Record-keeping and accountability needed by the DNR. We’re archiving historical photos and records to preserve those resources. In the summer and fall there’s a lot more scheduling and staffing programs, leading programs, and we have a summer naturalist who comes in and is really interacting with the visitors day to day.
Q: Who are most of your program participants?
A: It’s probably half kids and half adults. And I’d guess that about 60% of our participants are camping in the park, while the rest might be staying in a condo, hotel, or vacation home outside the park.
Q: Is there a fact, or story that you tell people that always surprises them?
A: When I’m working with kids I’ll ask them, “Who does the park belong to?” That always seems to catch them by surprise. They might point to me, or the ranger, and I tell them, “It’s your park. It’s our park.” It’s a great moment to make the connection that public lands were established so every person could enjoy public land.
Q: What do you hope people walk away with when they take part in the programs at peninsula?
A: I want them to love the landscape, and walk away knowing a little bit about why something happens here, and be curious to find out more. Peninsula to me is such an amazing park because it reflects broader social movements and broader historical events. We have journals from the girls camp, Camp Meenahga, where you see the girls were talking about the dropping of the atomic bomb and changes in music over time. In old maps you can see different trails and habitat types. You can see how our history goes back to early native history. There’s a woman’s body buried at Nicolet Bay that dates to 400 AD. The sociologist in me, the parent in me, has seen that this park offers people the chance to be together and make memories together without outside distractions. It’s not just that you’re biking, but that you’re biking in Peninsula with somebody, or building a campfire with grandma and grandpa.
If we can make those connections, people will care about something, and when you care about something, you’ll take care of it.
Q: What’s your favorite place in the park?
A: I have so many favorites, but on Middle Road, where Kodanko Field is, there’s a trail there, and there’s a rock right at the surface, and some birch trees coming up out of that rock. I just think that’s the coolest area, and I’ll go out and sit on that rock by myself. The other place is on Hemlock Trail, when you walk there in the spring, you’re on a little bit of a bluff above Blossomberg Cemetery, and before the leaves fill in, you can see out to the water.