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 – The Nature Conservancy beginning in 1962, the Door County Environmental Council beginning in 1969 and the Door County Land Trust beginning in 1986.
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 80 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.