Bridging the Future and the Past
by Sam Hoffman
As those familiar with The Ridges may know, the aging Range Light boardwalk is currently being replaced by some of our amazing volunteers. With the recent announcement of the purchase of The Ridges Inn and the start of the master planning process with SmithGroup, a Madison-based design group, this is a great moment for the organization to appreciate its past while looking to the future.
The Baileys Harbor Range Lights have been a central feature of The Ridges Sanctuary since the preserve’s formation in 1937, however the walkway bridging the two buildings has gotten little fanfare. A boardwalk connecting the Upper and Lower Range Lights allows today’s visitors to navigate the open corridor between the two historical buildings. It also serves as an avenue connecting the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center and Hidden Brook boardwalk to the Sanctuary’s rustic trails.
When the range lights were first built in 1869, there may not have been a structural walkway between the Upper and Lower Range Lights. One could speculate that wooden planks were placed in wet areas of the corridor and across the swales to make it easier for keepers to walk between the range lights. The first continuous wooden sidewalk, or “plank walk,” was built between the buildings in 1896 to aid in the operation and maintenance of the range lights. At only 2.5 feet wide, this was nothing more than a narrow bridge through the corridor and over the swales. Since that time the Range Light corridor has changed significantly, and the boardwalk has been rebuilt and upgraded several times. Though there is not a complete written record of all the improvements done to this boardwalk, historical pictures can give us some insight.
As visitor numbers increased at The Ridges, the importance of an accessible Range Light boardwalk became evident. In 1992, the Range Light boardwalk was completely rebuilt with pressure treated posts and cedar planking widened to 4 feet. In 2016, further updates included adding benches and bump outs to the boardwalk, as well as adding an extension that went over the top of the old concrete sidewalk. It was also at this time that the Hidden Brook Boardwalk was constructed, connecting the new Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center to the Baileys Harbor Range Lights and the rest of the Sanctuary.
With the nearly 30-year-old boardwalk deteriorating and outdated, The Ridges recently determined it was time to replace the entirety of the Range Light boardwalk. In 2021, with a generous posthumous member donation, The Ridges leadership approved the construction of a new boardwalk that would be constructed by Ridges volunteers. This exciting project will ultimately provide an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to access the range light corridor. The new Range Light boardwalk will be ADA compliant by widening the boardwalk from 4 to 6 feet, along with the addition of toe rails to the edges.
This new boardwalk will give all visitors the chance to experience and appreciate the cultural history of Baileys Harbor, while providing an avenue for people to explore the natural beauty and wonder of The Ridges Sanctuary for decades to come.
We hope to see you out there!