Protecting Door County's exceptional lands and waters forever.
Since our inception in 1986, the Door County Land Trust has worked to preserve, maintain and enhance lands that contribute significantly to the scenic beauty, open space, and ecological integrity of Door County. In pursuit of this mission, we have earned a reputation as one of the Midwest’s premier conservation organizations. We have worked with scores of landowners to protect more than 8,800 acres of fields, forests, farmlands, orchards, wetlands and shoreline. We are a local, non-profit, non-governmental organization supported by more than 2,800 households who love Door County and share a concern for its future.
The Land Trust exists because of the excellent community support we receive. Along with our main supporters, we work hand-in-hand with Door County landowners to create land protection solutions for each individual situation.
Our solid foundation
From fiscal responsibility to fair and transparent land dealings to collaborations with other conservation groups, we are an organization built on a rock solid foundation. The Land Trust prides itself on having adopted a host of internal policies to ensure that all activities of the organization are carried out with integrity and diligence.
We have forged important and lasting partnerships with other local land conservation groups. The Nature Conservancy, The Ridges Sanctuary, Crossroads at Big Creek, The Clearing and the Land Trust all work together to further the collective goal of sustaining a healthy ecosystem and high quality of life. We also partner with government agencies, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local townships to protect properties of highest priority in Door County.
Our Board of Directors and staff
The Land Trust is guided by an involved and energetic Board of Directors comprised of community leaders with passionate commitment, endless enthusiasm, visionary leadership, and wisdom. Our 12 professional staff members are dedicated to protecting the exceptional lands and waters of Door County, and fostering connections between the land and the community that offer inspiration, education, and partnerships that further conservation efforts in Door County. In addition to our staff, we have a volunteer corps of over 250 dedicated individuals.
How We Work
The Land Trust staff and board of directors work with conservation partners, scientists and researchers to identify Door County’s highest land protection priorities. These places are of high ecological and scenic value. They include well-known sites such as Bay Shore Blufflands Nature Preserve, Ephraim Preserve at Anderson Pond and Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve. Other lesser known sanctuaries we protect are Carlson Natural Area near Sister Bay, Gilson-Peterson Forest Natural Area near Ellison Bay and Solitude Natural Area near Jacksonport. While the majority of the Land Trust’s preservation efforts are aimed at these high-priority conservation areas, we also assist Door County landowners protect their properties through conservation easements and land donations.
The Land Trust protects land in three primary ways:
We purchase properties
We purchase properties. Purchases are conducted only on lands that are identified as high priority in terms of ecological and/or scenic significance.
We accept land donations from landowners who wish to see their properties permanently protected.
Conservation easement agreements
We enter into conservation easement agreements with private property owners. These permanent agreements restrict the type and amount of development that can take place on the property. The land continues to remain under the ownership of the landowner while the Land Trust has the permanent responsibility to monitor and enforce the terms of the conservation easements
All lands that we consider protecting through any of these three methods must meet the terms of our Land Acceptance Policy.
Door County Land Trust Beliefs & Values
To protect Door County’s exceptional lands and waters…forever.
Why we protect Door County’s exceptional lands and waters…forever.
- We believe Door County is like nowhere else on earth. It is our obligation to defend and steward Door County’s lands and waters.
- We believe healthy lands and waters improve the quality of our lives and that of future generations.
- We believe our actions on land fundamentally impact the quality of our water.
- We believe Door County’s economic viability is directly related to its environmental health.
- We believe well-cared for lands and waters are essential to support the diversity of Door County’s native plant and wildlife communities.
- We believe connected native landscapes strengthen the diversity of our ecosystems.
- We believe Door County must be valued and cared for by the community to withstand future threats to the environment.
Life thrives on the Door Peninsula, its islands, and surrounding waters.
How we conduct ourselves as we protect Door County’s exceptional lands and waters…forever.
- We are ethical. Practice the highest ethical standards in all personal interactions and business practices.
- We are committed to making justice, equity, diversity, and compassion core elements in all we do. Our efforts to conserve land and water are inextricably linked to uplifting our community by offering natural spaces in which everyone may experience nature. We acknowledge that our responsibility does not end with this statement but rather begins here. We cannot fully value and respect the land until we fully value and respect one another.
- We are respectful. Treat everyone with respect. Value the time and effort of others, including staff, members, volunteers and partners.
- We are a collaborative partner. Work in responsible, transparent and trusted partnerships with other private organizations, the community and public institutions.
- We are fiscally responsible. Maintain rigorous controls, balanced decision-making, thoughtful financial management and long-term orientation.
- We are community-focused. Make decisions that strengthen local communities and economies.
- We are a respected employer. Engage employees by investing in their well-being, job satisfaction, professional development and ongoing success.
- We are strategic. Prioritize opportunities that contribute most to the overall health and quality of lands and waters.
- We are driven by greater understanding. We gather information and scientific research to develop and improve our practices. We compile key data to measure the outcomes of our efforts. Through analysis and research our work adapts and evolves in response.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Approximately 31,000 acres. There are more than 300,000 acres in Door County so this represents about 10% of the land under permanent protection. In comparison, the State of Wisconsin averages about 16% of lands protected and accessible to the public.
Program and Operations: Member donations fund nearly 85% of our program and operational costs, including most land stewardship expenses. Program grants, event income and income from our investments make up the remaining 15%.
Land Acquisitions: To help us purchase properties of high ecological and scenic value, we apply for state and federal land acquisition grants. Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund is a major source of grant funding for our land acquisitions. We also apply for grants to help us carry out large-scale ecological restoration efforts at our nature preserves. We rely on membership contributions to match the state and federal land acquisition grants we receive as most grants require a 50% match in private donations.
Of the more than 7,000 acres protected by the Land Trust, about 2,800 acres are on the property tax rolls. Conservation easement agreements keep land in private ownership and thus on the tax rolls. In addition, some of the acreage owned by the Door County Land Trust remains on the tax rolls.
For lands owned by the Door County Land Trust, the majority of acreage is tax-exempt through a state law enabling land conservation organizations to apply for property-tax exemptions. This status is granted if the property is open to the public and provides habitat for native plants and animals. Tax-exempt status is only granted if the property provides public value in return. In the case of land conservation, the public gains established hiking preserves, hunting and fishing areas, scenic open space, and ecological services such as water filtration and habitat protection.
Preserving lands for scenic beauty and outdoor recreation is critical to maintaining a healthy countywide economy and for keeping property taxes in check, according to a 2004 study that analyzed the impact of different land uses on the property tax burden of local property owners and municipalities. The study found that developed lands cost a community more in services than they pay in taxes. Open space (fields, forests and farmlands), on the other hand, actually helps subsidize residential development by paying more in taxes than they use in services.
Yes! All of the lands owned by the Land Trust are open to the public. The Door County Land Trust’s thirteen largest nature preserves offer more than 27 miles of marked hiking trails that are featured in our Hiking Trails of the Door County Land Trust map. Our nature preserves are open for hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife observation, hunting and low-impact, non-motorized recreational activities.
Generally, our conservation easement-protected properties are not open to the public but many landowners grant the Land Trust the right to lead guided hikes.
Most of the land we own and manage is open to hunting. Hunting helps the Land Trust fulfill its land management goals by reducing the impact that the abundance of deer and turkey have on our native flora and fauna and also serves to connect our protected lands with more local community members. Depending on the preserve, there are different hunting allowances and different hunting seasons that are open. Hunters are asked to register their intent to hunt on Land Trust owned properties so the land trust is aware of who is on our lands and how many hunters use our program. Click here to view the land trust hunting webpage. Guidelines for safe hiking during hunting season can be found on land trust preserve webpages.
Dogs are allowed on Land Trust nature preserves so long as they are leashed. Hunting dogs actively engaged in hunting may be off-leash but must be under control and in voice command of the owner at all times.
No. Since its inception, the Land Trust has been solely focused on working with landowners and the local community to protect the Door County’s exceptional lands and waters. We have stayed out of politics and that has served us well. Whether a landowner or a Land Trust supporter who cares about the future of Door County’s beautiful landscapes is a Republican, Democrat, or an Independent, they have a place under the Land Trust umbrella. By not diverting organizational resources to supporting local, state or federal political campaigns, all of our resources are spent protecting and caring for the lands that matter to us most.
Door County Land Trust Milestones
In the mid-1980s, some members of the Door County Environmental Council were concerned with growing development and the lack of land protection options for county landowners. They sent two representatives to Washington D.C. for the very first meeting of regional land trusts from across the country. At this national Land Trust Rally, the representatives were introduced to the concept of land trusts and learned how to establish a local land trust in Door County. Shortly after their return, on June 7th, 1986, the Door County Land Trustees was incorporated and held its first official meeting. Virtually unknown in the county, with little money and only a handful of supporters, the future was uncertain for this fledgling organization.
But…in November of 1986, Baileys Harbor landowner Ruth Neuman had faith in the land trust ideal and became the first person in Door County to donate a conservation easement agreement to the Land Trustees. Her 115-acre parcel became the first property protected by the newly-formed organization.
Part of a Growing Movement...
In 1950, fewer than 50 local land trusts existed in the country. Today, they number over 1,700. Across the country, local land trusts have permanently protected over 47 million acres of our nation’s most treasured landscapes, double what was protected just five years ago. This figure grows by approximately 800,000 acres each year.
1986…the Door County Land Trustees is incorporated and receives its first conservation easement agreement.
1995…The Door County Land Trustees makes its first significant purchase, 60 acres along the north end of Kangaroo Lake. To help fund this purchase, the Land Trust wrote and received its first grant from Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.
1996…the Door County Land Trustees hires its first full-time staff member, executive director Dan Burke, and begins accepting annual memberships.
1997…the Door County Land Trustees changes its name to the Door County Land Trust.
1999…the Land Trust celebrates its first 1,000 permanently preserved acres. The first Annual Membership Gathering is held.
2000…the Land Trust completes its most ambitious project to date, the $1.2 million purchase of 180 acres along Bay Shore Drive, eight miles north of Sturgeon Bay. Part of the Bay Shore Blufflands Nature Preserve, this area now boasts over 450 acres protected.
2002…the Stewardship Endowment Trust Fund is established to provide for the Land Trust’s long-term health and stability. The endowment fund has grown to over $2,100,000 and is managed by a six-member Board of Trustees.
2002…the Land Trust celebrates 2,000 permanently preserved acres.
2003…The Land Trust, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and The Ridges Sanctuary, applies for and receives a $1 million federal matching grant to purchase and protect critical coastal wetland sites. This grant marks the beginning of an important partnership between the local conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve significant wildlife habitat in Door County.
2004…The Land Trust celebrates over 3,000 permanently preserved acres.
2004… The Land Trust is chosen from among 55 organizations to receive the Gathering Waters’ Land Trust of the Year Award for overall excellence and organizational integrity.
2004… The Land Trust completes its largest land project to date with the protection of 415 acres in Southern Door County through a conservation easement agreement.
2005…The Land Trust launches its 20th Anniversary Capital Campaign and raises $2.2 million to help preserve 20 Special Places throughout Door County.
2006… The Land Trust celebrates over 4,000 permanently preserved acres.
2007… The Land Trust, in partnership with the State of Wisconsin, applies for and receives two $1 million federal grants. One grant helped to purchase and protect critical coastal wetland sites on Washington and Detroit Islands. The second grant helped to purchase and protects wetland sites near the Lake Michigan shoreline east of Sturgeon Bay.
2008… With the successful acquisition of the 421-acre Three Springs property, the Land Trust completes the largest conservation purchase in Door County in over 41 years. The Land Trust also purchases 90 acres and 3,000 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline in the Town of Clay Banks. With an appraised value of over $2.4 million, this property marks the most valuable property the Land Trust has protected in its history.
2009… The Land Trust purchases 332 acres at the beloved Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal property and celebrates over 5,000 permanently preserved acres.
2010… The Land Trust preserves the entire northern half of Washington Island’s only inland lake and finalizes the Little Lake Nature Preserve. The popular Dining for Open Spaces series, begun in 2004 to raise funds for land preservation, reaches the $100,000-raised-to-date mark. The Board of Directors adopts a five-year Strategic Plan to direct the Land Trust through 2014.
2011…The Land Trust celebrates 25 years of preserving the lands we love in Door County and over 6,000 permanently preserved acres.
2012… The Land Trust purchases the iconic, 16-acre Grand View property in Ellison Bay and establishes the Grand View Scenic Overlook and Park. It completes the largest conservation project in its history, and in Door County in almost 50 years, with the purchase of the 483-acre Schwartz Lake at Shivering Sands. The Heins Creek Nature Preserve is established between Jacksonport and Baileys Harbor. The Land Trust partners with the Girl Scouts to preserve the historic Camp Cuesta property and expand the Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve. The Land Trust publishes A Guide to the Places We Protect and Hiking Trails of the Door County Land Trust map and surpasses the 6,500-protected acres milestone.
2013…In partnership with other groups and agencies, the Land Trust works on an ambitious initiative to protect the first three properties in the proposed 1,000-acre Chambers Island Nature Preserve. The Land Trust begins a landscape-wide initiative to improve water quality and habitat protection along an eight-mile stretch of the Niagara Escarpment between Sturgeon Bay and Egg Harbor. The Heins Creek Nature Preserve is opened to the public with a trail system, parking area, and signs. The Land Trust Creates two new annual giving circles, the Northern White Cedar Society and the Grand Peninsula Society, to ensure financial sustainability to support land preservation in perpetuity.
2014…The Land Trust establishes three new nature preserves, Walt’s Woods Natural Area on North Bay, Erskine Woods Natural Area near Hibbards Creek, and Boo’s Bluff Natural Area on Washington Island. It expands six existing preserve areas, at Three Springs Nature Preserve, Gibraltar-Ephraim Swamp Natural Area, Big and Little Marsh State Natural Area, Kellner Fen Natural Area, Chambers Island Nature Preserve and Detroit Harbor Nature Preserve.
2015…The Land Trust surpasses 7,000 acres protected with the addition of 40 acres at the headwaters of Three Springs Creek which flows through the Three Springs Nature Preserve and completes protection of an additional 250 acres at the Chambers Island Nature Preserve. The Land Trust launches its largest and most ambitious land restoration project in its history! The goal of this two-year restoration initiative is to bring hundreds of acres of critical wetland along the shores of Lake Michigan at the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve and at Heins Creek Nature Preserve back to optimal health.
2016…Door County Land Trust bids farewell to Executive Director Dan Burke who led the organization for 20 years and welcomes new Executive Director, Tom Clay. The Land Trust is awarded the seal of accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance─a recognition of adherence to the highest national standards for excellence and conservation permanence. The Land Trust completes seven land protection projects totaling 663 acres, including a 40-acre wetland complex addition at Kellner Fen Natural Area, a 20-acre wetland at Big and Little Marsh State Natural Area on Washington Island, 12-acre addition at Three Springs Nature Preserve, an 11-acre forested addition at Lautenbach Woods Nature Preserve, and three purchases, totaling over 241 acres, at the Chambers Island Nature Preserve. Additionally, Lawrence University protects 305 acres in Baileys Harbor with the Björklunden conservation easement and Southern Door private landowners protect a 35-acre conservation easement teeming with diverse wildlife and a variety of habitat.
2017…The Land Trust protects 392 acres with 7 projects, including a 120-acre bargain-sale purchase in Gibraltar-Ephraim Swamp Natural Area comprised of coastal wetlands, springs, and streams that flow into Eagle Harbor and Green Bay. Two new conservation easements are completed, including a 37-acre conservation easement near Rowleys Bay that protects boreal forest within the Ramsar designated Door Peninsula Coastal Wetlands and a 17-acre conservation easement within the Bay Shore Blufflands wildlife corridor. With four additions, totaling 207 acres, Chambers Island Nature Preserve becomes the largest nature preserve protected by Door County Land Trust.
2018… The Land Trust surpasses 8,000 acres protected! Chambers Island Nature Preserve grows with five additions totaling 96 acres, including two islands within Lake Mackaysee and a 9-acre land donation. The Land Trust hosts the Chambers Island BioBlitz with 32 scientists leading a 4-day study to inventory the plant and animal species. Assisted by more than 70 volunteer citizen scientists, they record a breathtaking 560+ species of flora and fauna. Peregrine falcons are documented nesting in Door County for the first time since the late 1950s.
2019…The Land Trust completes 8 new land protection projects totaling 243 acres, welcomes two new staff members, and begins a partnership to protect Pebble Beach with the Village of Sister Bay. More than 500 supporters, including more than 200 first-time contributors, give to protect Pebble Beach. The Village of Sister Bay completes the purchase of the property just two months after the project was announced. Other newly protected properties include two properties totaling 121 acres at Gibraltar-Ephraim Swamp Natural Area, three properties totaling 86 acres at Chambers Island Nature Preserve, and the 15-acre donation of the Big and Little Susie Islands within the Detroit Harbor Nature Preserve on Washington Island. A 21-acre conservation easement was donated in a Southern Door conservation priority area to protect productive stream habitat, working forests, and serve as a monarch migration point.
2020…In a year of uncertainty, the Land Trust nature preserves stayed open to everyone, providing recreational lands filled with restorative power and hope. Door County Land Trust successfully protected three new properties totaling 105 acres at Gibraltar-Ephraim Swamp Natural Area, two properties totaling 40 acres at Big and Little Marsh Natural Area, and a 12-acre property within Coffey Swamp Natural Area. A 40-acre forest and wetland at the edge of Kellner Fen Natural Area was donated. A 40-acre conservation easement was donated to protect part of the forested wetland corridor connecting Ephraim and Baileys Harbor. Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve welcomed the film crew from Discover Wisconsin to record a Fantastic Fungi hike with Charlotte Lukes.
2021…Door County Land Trust successfully renewed as an Accredited Land Trust for the next five years, published Shoreline at the Edge, and welcomed two new staff members. Two new properties totaling 72 acres on Washington Island and one new property totaling 20 acres in Gibraltar-Ephraim Swamp Natural Area were permanently protected. The Land Trust also had two historic firsts this year – protecting 43 acres in southern Door County marking the first time a conservation organization has purchased land within the 13-mile Stony Creek stream corridor, and 10 acres including the Land Trust’s first Chambers Island parcel with shoreline on Green Bay. The Land Trust also accepted a donated conservation easement agreement to protect 31 acres of open space near the Three Springs Creek and Mink River subwatersheds.
2022…A 62-acre land donation of family forest at Sigwald Jacobsen Natural Area, Washington Island, ensures that the forest remains intact, that wildlife can move freely across the land, and a family land ethic is honored.