In 1935, Albert Fuller, then Curator of Botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum, began spending a great deal of time traveling between Milwaukee and Door County, studying the rare flora which flourished on a parcel of land in Baileys Harbor.
What began as research quickly developed into an important conservation initiative. Fuller discovered that the parcel was leased to the county by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and that the county planned to develop a trailer park there. Thus began a two-year period of education and advocacy. Fuller gave countless presentations — often with his friend and fellow conservationist, Jens Jensen – to many residents of Baileys Harbor and the surrounding area, including Emma Toft and Olivia Traven. In 1937, these citizens and others formed The Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin’s first land trust, to protect the original 40 acres. The organization’s original mission was threefold:
- 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.
The founding of The Ridges created a ripple effect in Door County and set the stage for very important and effective future conservation efforts on the peninsula – by The Nature Conservancy beginning in 1962, the Door County Environmental Council beginning in 1969 and the Door County Land Trust beginning in 1986. The impact of The Ridges has been felt at the state level, as well. Albert Fuller recognized the importance of natural areas and the consequences of their loss. Inspired by the early success of The Ridges and its founding mission, he worked alongside Aldo Leopold, botanist Norman Fassett and plant ecologist John Curtis to advocate for the conservation of wildflowers as a natural resource. Ultimately, these scientists were instrumental in the creation of the State Board for the Preservation of Scientific Areas, the first state-sponsored natural area protection program in the nation. That first board evolved into the State Natural Areas Program which today encompasses 653 sites and more than 358,000 acres of land and water, protecting more than 90% of the plants and 75% of the animals on Wisconsin’s list of endangered and threatened species.
Fuller’s model has endured and today forms the three pillars of the mission which governs The Ridges Sanctuary: To protect the Sanctuary and inspire stewardship of natural areas through programs of education, outreach and research. For over 75 years, those principles have guided the Ridges’ every action, resulting not only in land acquisition and protection, but in a broad array of education, outreach and research initiatives which make the Sanctuary accessible to the public and encourage private and personal land stewardship:
- No Family Left Inside – A series of education programs designed in partnership with the Door County Library and Door County YMCA to encourage parents and children to reconnect through outdoor experiences;
- Citizen Monitoring Programs – Coordinating countywide stream monitoring programs in partnership with Water Action Volunteers; partnering with US Fish & Wildlife to develop Best Management Practices for the Hine’s Emerald dragonfly habitat; collaborating with the Door County Invasive Species Team to assist landowners in protecting biodiversity and critical habitats on their property.
- Landowner Stewardship Programs – Working with Door County landowners, business owners, and municipalities to help protect local flora, fauna, and water quality in their own backyard.
- Door County Festival of Nature – Cooperating with The Nature Conservancy, Door County Land Trust, Crossroads at Big Creek and Wisconsin DNR to educate nature enthusiasts, both local and visitor, about the unique biodiversity of the Door Peninsula.
- Research Studies/Partnerships – Moss Research (UW-Madison, 2012), Sucker Migration (UW-Madison, 2011), Ram’s-Head Orchid Survey (2010), Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois State Museum – Ecology of the Hine’s Emerald (2009). (See Ridges Research Inventory, 2007)