Door County Spring Seasonal

Seasons of Blossom

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.

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Cherry Blossoms Blooming
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

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.

You can learn more about Peninsula State Park here, and find the latest programs at all of Door County’s parks and nature preserves in our events calendar here >>