The Humble Leopold Bench: A History of Conservation and Giving Back
By Jeanne Farrell, Director of Marketing
“At 3:30 a.m., with such dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door, bearing in either hand my emblems of sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook.
I seat myself on a bench, facing the white wake of the morning star. I set the pot beside me. I extract a cup from my shirt front, hoping none will notice its informal mode of transport. I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee,” ---Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.
It was here, on his bench, that famous conservationist Aldo Leopold often observed the birds, forest and wildlife around him. The iconic Leopold bench, originally created from materials scrounged along the banks of the Wisconsin River, underscores how even a piece of furniture can have a connection to the environment. Its design is indistinguishable from most other benches. However, the Leopold bench model holds functional usefulness not readily apparent. By sitting backward, with legs through the opening, the backrest now provides sturdy support for the elbows while using binoculars or cameras to observe nature. The benches are meant to be outdoor furniture that would weather and blend in with the surroundings, eventually returning to earth.
Building the bench requires modest skills, materials and about two hours of time. If left untreated, this stable bench weathers a characteristic gray patina and blends in with its surroundings.
Leopold bench building at the Ridges goes back many years. The known record includes the work of Jim Jauquet, a long-time Ridges volunteer who made benches in the early 2000s. In 2012, Larry Crock took over the reins from Jim. Using his woodworking skills, he started with leg assemblies, eventually taking on the entire process and using his home workshop for production. Larry used his woodworking skills to make the first fixtures that held leg assembly pieces properly for drilling the carriage bolt holes. The fixtures are still in use today.
The building process was eventually transferred from Larry's home garage to The Ridges workshop/garage, as was the raw wood storage structure that Larry built outside his garage. The Ridges garage accommodates a radial-arm saw and a workbench on either side of the saw, allowing a saw table almost 20' long, greatly facilitating the processing of boards purchased from Henschel's. Fixtures mark the lengths needed for seats, backs, and leg assembly pieces, obviating the need to measure for each cut.
Larry “retired” from 10+ years of bench building in August 2023, and production was handed over to Ridges Thursday crew volunteers Jim Kinney, Bill Wolff and Todd Rockway. Jim has fond memories of working alongside Larry. “Larry was a faithful volunteer who always showed up for the Thursday morning work shifts, even in winter weather. He was an excellent carpenter and worked on making an excellent product for sale at the Ridges store.”
The Ridges Sanctuary is deeply saddened by the passing of Larry Crock on October 4th, 2023. Larry and Cynthia Crock became residents of Baileys Harbor in 2008 and quickly established themselves as active volunteers and supporters of the Ridges. Larry was also a member of the Rotary Club of Door County North in Baileys Harbor and Immanuel Lutheran Church LCMC, and volunteered with Feed and Clothe My People. He will be dearly missed.
Looking for a great holiday gift? Leopold benches are for sale at The Nature Store for $140, assembled and $120 for an unassembled kit. Nature Store hours are Monday, 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.