The Ridges Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary

Part of Ep. 1603 Bailey's Harbor

Steve Leonard, Director of Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey's Harbor in Door County, introduces Shelley to a nature preserve with incredibly diverse flora and fauna.

Premiere date: Sep 17, 2008

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
One of the definitions of a garden is a place for the public to enjoy usually planted with trees and flowers.  Using that definition, this is one of my favorite garden spots in Wisconsin.  We're at Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey's Harbor in Door County.  Lake Michigan is just a few steps away.  I'm with Steve Leonard, of Ridges Sanctuary.  Thanks for letting us come to this wonderful sanctuary.  Tell us a little about what you do, and the Ridges itself.

Steve:
Sure, thanks for coming.  My pleasure.  It's a great opportunity.  I'm the director of the Ridges Sanctuary.  It's the oldest non-profit member-based organization in the state of Wisconsin, protecting a nature preserve.  The Ridges Sanctuary is just that.  It is a sanctuary.  It's an incredibly diverse area of flora and fauna.  It has several trails that lead people through it to explore and discover what it holds, or what it captivates as far as that diversity.

Shelley:
What's caused the diversity?  How was it formed? 

Steve:
I'll start with the topography.  When the lake levels were that much higher, you had the first ridge form off the lakeshore from Lake Michigan.  It created a ridge, basically a sand dune.  Well, as that water receded, it created another ridge.  We have 30 ridges here with swales in between.

Shelley:
That would be the low spots.

Steve:
The low spots that would capture the water different soil types, things like that.  And so, in this small area, right off of Bailey's Harbor right next to Lake Michigan, we've got an incredibly diverse area of vegetation.

Shelley:
Because each one of those ridges and swales has almost a different vegetation than the next one.

Steve:
Correct, that's it, depending on the type of vegetation the canopy, the soil types, things like that.  It's created plant communities in the ridge swale complex.

Shelley:
How old of a physical creation is this?  When did this start?

Steve:
The Ridges Sanctuary started, the organization started in 1937, to protect this area.  But the ridges were formed about 1,200-1,500 years ago.

Shelley:
So that's recent.

Steve:
The diversity has been created for many generations.  But the organization started to realize back in the '30s that this is an incredible place.

Shelley:
And it is.

Steve:
We need to protect it, not only the original 40 acres but now we're up to 1,500 acres.

Shelley:
It always seems cooler to me here.  Why is that?

Steve:
That's because of being right next to Lake Michigan.  That other characteristic that makes it so unique is that cold wind and a moist climate comes off the lake.  What you get is more of a boreal characteristic canopy with the cedars, the firs, white pine, a lot of the different evergreens. 

Shelley:
I've always loved walking through this canopy of trees.  It's so special.

Steve:
It’s incredible.  What you have is that unique canopy and then this understory of different-- it's not just one kind of fern, but a variety of ferns.

Shelley:
It's not just one kind of green, like you say.  It's just, in one small spot you've got how many different kinds of green.

Steve:
That's what makes it so unique.

Shelley:
You've got the mosses.  What are some of the ferns we're looking at here?

Steve:
Sensitive fern, right there.  Star flowers, a wide variety of wild flowers here.  We can actually walk to another site and look at some of those.

Shelley:
Some of my favorite plants at the Ridges are there.  Let's go do that.

Steve:
Sounds great.  What we have here is the federally endangered Dwarf North Lake Iris.  It kind of creates a whole blanket.

Shelley:
It looks like a ground cover.

Steve:
Yes, it really is.

Shelley:
What time of year does that bloom?

Steve:
In May, it comes out with a blue-purple flower on it just incredible color.

Shelley:
This is one of the few places in Wisconsin that it grows?

Steve:
Yep, one of the few places.  n When you look at it, it's just all over the Ridges.  That's what makes the Ridges so unique.  It really makes it a sanctuary.

Shelley:
I'm looking at one of the other plants that I just love.  This grass, not only is it such a delicate flower, but I always liked the little green stripes on the petals.  It's really pretty.

Steve:
It just kind of covers this area.  It's a late bloomer.  Right now, you have this grass.  Quite a few others, golden rod.  An incredible time right now.  It changes month to month.

Shelley:
Very nice.

Steve:
Right here, we have Turtlehead.

Shelley:
That's a lover of moist areas.

Steve:
Right, that's why it's right here along the boardwalk.

Shelley:
Turtlehead, I know you can buy cultivated varieties and plant them in your own backyard.  Most of the plants, including these grasses will die if they're taken away from this environment.

Steve:
Correct, and that's why this is a sanctuary.  These plants need to stay here.  We need to really educate people about how unique the Ridges is, and why it's a sanctuary.

Shelley:
Well, educating them in other words, don't take the plants home.  Take the joy and the wonder home.  Leave the plants here.

Steve:
It's a great place to inspire people to say how do I create an outdoor environment in my own backyard.

Shelley:
How do I create that wonder sanctuary?

Steve:
Exactly. 

Shelley:
For kids, too.

Steve:
Kids and families.  We're really focusing in on families, that next generation to sustain the Ridges.  We need to really create that voice of biodiversity and how important that is.  So we're encouraging families to create an outdoor discovery area in their own backyard, their own sanctuary, where they have rotten logs that they can roll over and find rollie-pollies.  A climbing trees.

Shelley:
Of course!

Steve:
You know, I grew up climbing numerous trees.  Rock piles, all kinds of leaf layers, things like that, where they can not only find the rollie-pollies but the toads, snakes, and everything else.  That whole food chain in their own backyard.

Shelley:
Some of the things we see here, that they can see at home.  So we ask people not to dig up the plants, but take home the other joy of discovery.

Steve:
If we encourage kids to connect to the outdoors at home when they come here to the Ridges.

Shelley:
They'll appreciate it so much more.

Steve:
And they'll respect it.  They'll understand that the plants need to stay here.  And they'll want to help protect it.

Shelley:
Education like that is kind of a new avenue for you folks.  You've focused on research and preservation like building this boardwalk.

Steve:
Right, and I think it was always to develop an understanding of how to protect the Ridges.  And we did that through a lot of research.  And educating locals to say, you know, here's the hydrology.  The water's coming from this side of the boardwalk over to this side, where we're needing to address quantity and quality issues with the swales.  So let's build a boardwalk so that water flow...

Shelley:
Can flow and continue to fill up those swales. 

Steve:
Right.

Shelley:
That makes more sense.  And you are almost totally funded by donations from the public, aren't you?

Steve:
It's our membership, and then donations from an annual appeal and other avenues to help sustain, not only our research and land preservation.

Shelley:
But the new education program, and the volunteers, too.  You've all done a fantastic job.

Steve:
Thank you.  It's worth preserving, thanks. 

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