Door County, Wisconsin…. The Cape Cod of the Midwest!

by Dave Weiman

Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport (3D2), Ephraim-Fish Creek, Wisconsin

Pilots looking for a northern Wisconsin destination should consider flying to Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport (3D2), Ephraim-Fish Creek, Wisconsin, in the Door County Peninsula. There is an array of activities, from water sports, bicycling miles of bike trails, golfing, fine and casual dining, a drive-in theatre and live Broadway-quality theatres, boat cruises and ferry rides over to nearby Washington Island and Rock Island, lighthouse tours and historical museums, caves, quality shops – both art and antique – and wonderful scenery. There’s the turquoise blue waters of Lake Michigan to the east of the peninsula, and Green Bay to the west; hilly topography with rock outcroppings; and beautiful green deciduous and pine forests. Lake Michigan is the second largest of the five Great Lakes and is the only Great Lake located entirely within the U.S.

The view of the shoreline from the road.

The Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport (3D2) has two runways: Rwy 14/32, 2700 X 60 feet (paved), and Rwy 01/19, 2345 X 80 feet (turf). There is a new self-service fuel system, which is very user friendly, and whether or not you need fuel, please remember to always support the airports you visit. Thank you!

Tie-downs are $10.00 per night, restrooms are open 24/7, and bicycles are available for use free of charge – another reason to support this airport! For additional information or assistance with ground transportation, call 920-854-9711 (www.friendsofephraimgibraltarairport.com).

The Door County Trolley gives visitors a guided tour of the peninsula.

Once in town, I recommend taking the Door County Trolley for a narrated scenic tour to see Door County’s scenic bluffs, and to learn local legend and lore along the way (www.doorcountytrolley.com).

From the top of the hill, to the bend in the road, surprises await you in old general stores, historic barns and little white cottages. Fish Creek’s shops feature a wealth of beauty and individuality, fun and frivolity (www.fishcreekinfo.com/category/shopping).

Our tour stopped at the Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek. The Door County Montmorency Cherry is freshly picked and packaged here with the morning dew still present. The rest end up in bottles of satisfying, fruity wine such as “Cherry Blossom,” fresh baked cherry pies still hot from the oven, fresh-pressed jugs of tart cherry juice, plump dried cherries, and rows of scrumptious cherry jams and pie fillings (www.orchardcountry.com).

At its peak in 1959, Door County had more than one million cherry trees—more than any other locale in the nation. Today the average Montmorency Cherry tree in Door County produces 7,000 cherries—enough to make 28 pies!

Cana Island Lighthouse in Baileys Harbor on the Door County Peninsula.

Looking down from the lighthouse you see the submerged rock ledges that ships must avoid.

Door County has the second largest concentration of lighthouses of any county in the United States, now all historical landmarks. We visited Cana Island Lighthouse in Baileys Harbor with its gleaming white tower and keeper’s home of cream city brick. This 1869 lighthouse has withstood countless storms, witnessed great maritime dramas and is well known as one of the Great Lakes’ most photographed lighthouses (www.dcmm.org/canaisland).

The view out a window in the lighthouse.

We also toured Eagle Bluff Lighthouse at Peninsula State Park, which has protected ships since 1868 between the city of Green Bay and points north and east that used the narrow and treacherous channels offshore, with high bluffs on one side and large flat shoals on the other.

It was fascinating to listen to the stories told by the lighthouse hosts about the families that once lived in each lighthouse, how the lighthouse keeper was working or on call 24/7, and how they and their children would entertain themselves by reading books, which were transferred in quantity from one lighthouse to another during the year.

We also toured the Eagle Observation Tower – a 75-foot tower atop a 180-foot limestone bluff overlooking Green Bay islands and the Michigan shoreline (www.eagleblufflighthouse.org).

We took a guided tour of Whitefish Dunes State Park, the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin and home to eight significant Native American villages from 100 BC to the late 1800s (www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks/specific/whitefish). In recognition of the number of past occupations and excellent state of preservation, this site has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cave Point County Park.

Next, we briefly stopped at Cave Point County Park to see the picturesque limestone sea caves—the result of Lake Michigan’s relentless pounding against the limestone bluffs (www.doorcounty.com/outdoor/parks.aspx).

Shopping

Once your significant other sees some of the treasured gifts and furnishings for sale, you will wish you owned a Light Sport Aircraft, rather than a four or six-place cruiser.

Explore Sister Bay’s plethora of fun shops, and then end the day with a concert in the Beach Pavilion, overlooking spectacular Sister Bay (www.sisterbaytourism.com). Sister Bay, Door County’s largest community north of Sturgeon Bay, was settled in 1857 by Norwegian immigrants.

The Blue Dolphin House & Studio in Ephraim is a 1860s renovated farmhouse, surrounded by towering pines and perennial gardens. It features oils, watercolors, fibers, metalwork, mixed media and hand blown glass (www.bluedolphinhouse.com)

The Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek is one of the Midwest’s most respected art galleries, featuring works from more than 100 artists and known since 1969 for its exhibitions exploring ideas in a wide range of media—paintings, sculpture, glass, clay, wood and jewelry (www.edgewoodorchard.com).

The Plum Bottom Pottery in Egg Harbor features the handcrafted porcelain and stoneware of artist Chad Luberger (www.plumbottompottery.com).

Visit the Peninsula Art School and Guenzel Gallery in Fish Creek, a center for education and exploration in visual arts, offering year-round programming including one to five-day workshops in ceramics, sculpture, jewelry and metal arts, watercolor, painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, mixed media and more. The Guenzel Gallery is the center of activity and the art-filled entry point for students, art appreciators and visitors to PAS with the featured exhibit “Medium in the Message” (www.peninsulaartschool.com).

You can also create your own art at Hands On Art Studio in Fish Creek. There, you can take classes in fused glass, metal sculpture, mosaics, wood, ceramics, and jewelry making (www.handsonartstudio.com).

The Door County Maritime Museum offers tours, and is located on the working waterfront of Sturgeon Bay, focusing on Sturgeon Bay shipbuilding and featuring a working periscope, the pilothouse from the Great Lakes ore carrier, the “Elba,” a fourth order Fresnel lens crafted in 1880 and more. Then see the newest exhibit “Ghosts! Haunted Lighthouses of the Great Lakes” (www.dcmm.org).

One afternoon we took a narrated boat tour along some of the more than 300 miles of shoreline aboard “The Shoreline,” a 33-foot U.S. Coast Guard-inspected Navy vessel to see lighthouses, limestone cliffs, caves, shipwrecks, quaint waterside villages and multi-million dollar summer homes (www.shorelinecharters.net).

Explore the village of Ephraim on a guided historic walking tour, to learn about the cultural and historical heritage that is a blend of Moravian culture and Norwegian ethnic heritage. Founded as a Moravian religious community in 1853 by the Reverend Andreas Iverson, many of the historic buildings – The Moravian Church (1858), the Pioneer Schoolhouse (1880), and the Anderson Store (1858) and warehouse, as well as the Anderson Barn (1880) and eight homes in the village – are more than a century old and all still in use  (www.ephraim-wisconsin.com).

Stop and smell the flowers on a naturalist-guided hike at the Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve, a designated State Natural Area, an Audubon Important Bird Area and National Natural Landmark featuring native wildflowers along its five miles of rustic trails and bridges (www.ridgesanctuary.org).

Recreation

Choose a mode of water fun from Nicolet Beach Concessions in Peninsula State Park – sailboats, paddleboats, hydro bikes (sea cycles), kayaks and canoes, then let the fun begin (www.kayakdoorcounty.com/nicoletbeach)!

Another good place to rent a “kayak” is Bay Shore Outdoor Store in Sister Bay (www.kayakdoorcounty.com). The Bay Shore Outdoor Store is Travel Green Certified, an organization of tourism businesses that have made a commitment to continuously improve their operations to reduce their environmental impact.

If you “golf,” you can play your choice of two nine-hole courses (Blue: par 36 and Black: par 35) at Alpine Golf Course in Egg Harbor with breathtaking views of the bay, majestic bluffs, and glacier-carved natural hazards (www.alpineresort.com/golf). The ninth hole on the Blue Nine Course has been rated “The Most Scenic Hole in the State of Wisconsin.”

Peninsula State Park Golf Course (par 71; challeng-ing), Door County’s most picturesque 18 holes set in the midst of the majestic woods of Peninsula State Park, offers stunning views of Eagle Harbor (www.peninsulagolf.org).

Peninsula State Park Golf Course was established in 1921 and has the distinction of being the only course in Wisconsin’s state park system.

Skydive Door County offers tandem skydiving at the Cherryland Airport in Sturgeon Bay (www.skydivedoorcounty.com).

Try flying through the air at Gravity Trails, the first “zip line” in Wisconsin! Start off with some basic ground-to-ground zips to get acquainted and comfortable with the procedure, then take your feet off the ground and fly high above the treetops. Along the way, hike and learn about the native ecology and wilderness from knowledgeable guides (www.gravitytrails.com).

“Para-sail” high above Eagle Harbor at Para-sail Rides in Ephraim to experience breathtaking views and an exhilarating ride on the wind. You won’t even get wet if you don’t want to (www.parasailrides.com)!

One of the last drive-in movie theatres in Wisconsin is the Skyway Drive-In Theatre off Hwy 42 between Fish Creek and Ephraim. The drive-in has been showing current movies in a nostalgic setting since 1950. Double features are shown nightly. The snack bar features fresh hot popcorn, foot-long hot dogs, and pizza. There’s even a playground for the kids! Call 920-854-9938 24 hours a day for movie information.

Restaurants

For breakfast one day we ate at the Scaturo’s Baking Company & Café in Sturgeon Bay. They are known for their homemade specialties from cinnamon rolls to pecan rolls. Door County cherries can be found in a variety of baked goods from coffee rings to cherry walnut muffins (www.scaturos.com).

The fire used at the “fish boil” at the Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, Wisconsin.

Overlooking Eagle Harbor is the Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, featuring fresh whitefish, chicken and ribs, potatoes, onions, cole slaw, homemade breads and cherry pie. Breakfasts include Belgian waffles, homemade coffee cake and cherry muffins.

Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, Wisconsin.

We ate lunch at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, a Door County landmark since 1906, featuring its old-fashioned soda fountain, home-brewed draft root beer, jukeboxes and ice cream specialties like the Cherry Berry Delight, Classic Turtle Sundae, banana split, extra-thick malts, ice cream coolers and more (www.wilsonsicecream.com). If you are going to indulge in a meal, this is the place to go.

Another great place for lunch is the Top of the Hill Café in Fish Creek. This quaint restaurant serves a full assortment of deli and specialty sandwiches, burgers, paninis, salads and homemade soups (www.shoppingdoorcounty.com).

The Country Ovens is a family owned and operated business since 1987. Country Ovens features Cherry De-Lite products, produced exclusively from famous Door County Grade A Fancy Montmorency Red Tart Cherries (www.countryovens.com).

The Cookery in Fish Creek emphasizes sustainability in all aspects. From a newly designed building to the locality of ingredients used in creating menu items, this Door County icon has maintained its original 1977 values, serving delicious homemade dishes to customers such as their famous whitefish chowder (a recipe that has been on the menu since day one!), perch sandwich, seasonal farmers market salad, smashed chickpea salad sandwich, quiche and more (www.cookeryfishcreek.com).

Other excellent restaurants include the Second Story Restaurant at Ephraim Shores with its panoramic view of Eagle Harbor; and Door County’s garden restaurant, the Summer Kitchen in Ephraim, known for its famous soup bar, salads, sandwiches, and homemade pies.

Discover Door County’s sweet tooth with pies made the old-fashioned way at Sweetie Pies, featuring flavors like cherry (of course!) apple-caramel-walnut, pecan, cherry rhubarb, peach raspberry, chocolate chip cookie pie, berried treasure, Bruise berry and others (www.doorcountypies.com/pies.html).

Then enjoy a coffee tasting at Door County Coffee & Tea in Carlsville, Door County’s premier coffee roaster, roasting coffee in small batches to exacting specifications. Be sure to try (and take home!) delicious flavors like cherry creme, bananas foster and raspberry almond or for the coffee-diehards try the bold and delicious black velvet, Columbian supreme or elite espresso (www.doorcountycoffee.com). Next, sniff, swirl and sip at Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery, the most modern winery and largest vineyard in Wisconsin – 30 acres (www.simoncreekvineyard.com).

(L/R) Greg “Fuzzy” Sunstrom and Fred Luber of “Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Grill” in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

One evening we had dinner at Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Grill in Sister Bay. Owner Fred Luber of Sister Bay, Wis., is a pilot and owns a 2007 Pilatus. Greg “Fuzzy” Sunstrom is part owner and manager. The indoor/outdoor restaurant features casual cuisine—like “Fred’s Favorite,” a scrumptious steak and Bleu cheese sandwich, and the “Three Cheese Deluxe,” a grilled cheese sandwich like you’ve never seen, loaded with provolone, cheddar and swiss—in a tropical atmosphere (www.fredandfuzzys.com). We watched the sunset with a cool cherry margarita, which Fred & Fuzzy’s is known for. If you like live bands, Fred & Fuzzy’s is the place to be.

A trip to Door County is not complete unless you have been to an authentic fish boil dinner, a dining experience found only in Door County. A traditional Door County fish boil features freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish caught by local fishermen and cooked outside over an open fire, just as it was 100 years ago by the Scandinavian settlers of the Peninsula (www.doorcounty.com/dine/fish-boils.aspx). The fish boil tradition began as an economical way to feed large, hungry groups of lumberjacks and fishermen. Today, fish boils feed large, hungry groups of pilots (see Washington Island Fish Boil Fly-In below).

After dinner one evening, we attended a performance at Peninsula Players Theatre in Fish Creek, America’s oldest professional resident summer theatre, offering visitors professional artistic excellence, combined with incredible scenic beauty since 1935 (www.peninsulaplayers.com).

There’s also the American Folklore Theatre with performances outdoors under a canopy of trees and stars at the Peninsula State Park Amphitheatre (www.folkloretheatre.com).

Accommodations

The White Lace Inn bed and breakfast in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

There are lots of great places to stay at rates to meet everyone’s budget, from your typical hotels and lodges, to bed and breakfasts fit for a king and queen. We stayed at the Evergreen Beach Resort in Ephraim (www.evergreenbeach.com) and the White Lace Inn bed and breakfast in Sturgeon Bay (www.whitelaceinn.com). Bonnie and Dennis Statz have owned the White Lace Inn since 1982 and have meticulously restored a number of 100-plus-year-old homes to better-than-new condition with such modern amenities as hot tubs, gas fireplaces, and satellite television. Another nice bed and breakfast is the Lodgings At Pioneer Lane in Ephraim (www.lodgingsatpioneerlane.com). Owner Hugh Muliken is a pilot and aircraft owner. Another pilot and aircraft owner, Martin Franke, owns the Pine Grove Resort in Ephraim, one of few remaining resorts that still offer waterfront access and a private beach exclusively for guests. Each room at the Pine Grove Resort has a balcony overlooking Eagle Harbor, and there’s an indoor pool and exercise room. For reservations call 800-292-9494 (www.pinegrovedoorcounty.com).

Special Events

A special event in the fall is the “Pumpkin Patch Fest” in Egg Harbor the first part of October. The event provides family fun, storytelling for the kids, children and outdoor adult entertainment, sweet corn, pumpkin pie, cider, beer and brats. The Sister Bay Fall Festival, held in mid October, features an antique boat show, music and food.

Washington Island

Off the tip of Door County is “Washington Island,” known for its annual fish boil, held in mid July, and sponsored by the Lions Club. Washington Island is Wisconsin’s largest island (36 square miles) and dubbed “The Crown Jewel” of Door County. The island is located “north of the tension line” (the line marking the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole). Founded in 1850, the island became home to immigrants who established the second oldest Icelandic settlement in the U.S. (www.wisferry.com and www.washingtonislandchamber.com).

The French named the treacherous waters separating Washington Island from the Door County Peninsula, “Portes des Morts” or Door of Death. This is where Door County gets its name. One day a group of 350 Pottawatomie Indians tried canoeing between the Door County Peninsula and Washington Island and drowned in the process. Today, you can fly to Washington Island, or cross Death’s Door via ferry.

Washington Island Farm Museum.

Stavkirke on Washington Island.

Upon our arrival to Washington Island, we boarded the Cherry Train for a narrated tour of the island and stopped briefly at The Art & Nature Center, featuring a working beehive, bird calling station, exhibits and artifacts in a circa 1904 schoolhouse building. The Farm Museum showcases life on a Washington Island farm in the 1880s including original buildings moved to the museum site from island locations, and old-time agricultural implements. The Stavkirke is a church built by island craftsmen who incorporated shipbuilding techniques and ancient Norse tradition. The structure lives and breathes like a Viking ship. Another stop on the tour was Schoolhouse Beach, with its unique distinction of being one of only five beaches in the world with all white limestone “polished” rocks (www.cherrytraintours.com). To get picked up at the airport, call Richard Purinton of the Cherry Train at 920-847-2546.

The airport (2P2) was established in 1935. There is two turf runways: Rwy 14/32, 2230 X 150 feet, and Rwy 04/22, 1300 X 125 feet. Walt Nehlsen is the airport manager. He can be reached at 920-847-2522.

The first aviator on Washington Island was Claude C. Cornell, son of veteran fisherman John W. Cornell of the fishing firm J.W. Cornell & Sons. Cornell owned a cabin-class Stinson, powered by a 125 hp Kinner engine. Cornell received his flight training at Walter Arntzen of U.P. Air Associates of Escanaba, Michigan in 1933.

A Department of Natural Resources boat departs “Rock Island” for the return trip to Washington Island.

To reach Rock Island State Park across the bay from Washington Island, you board a ferry at Jackson Harbor for a short 15-minute ride to Rock Island. From there you can take a walking tour of this primitive 912-acre pedestrian-only island featuring the Pottawatomie Lighthouse (Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse); stone buildings built by a wealthy inventor who owned the island between 1910-45; and hike 10 miles of trails, a one-mile interpretive trail, and 5,000 feet of beach (www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks/specific/rockisland/index.html).

Be sure to check the Door County website for a complete calendar of special events and additional information: www.doorcounty.com.

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This entry was posted in All Features, Destinations, Features, Fly & Dine, March/April 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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