By Marise Redmann
It’s so quiet I can hear my heart beat. I haven’t been this alone in ages. I paddle gently so as not to disturb the peace. I slip through the bulrushes, feeling them standing rigidly, protesting my entry. I can hear the frogs chirping in the distance but as I approach they stop. When looking into the water I see the earth’s surface, it’s undulating ripples of sand carved out by waves gone before me. I look up and see a pileated woodpecker enjoying a morsel from a holed cedar. I am reminded of my soul and all the goodness that surrounds me in life.
Whether you are a beginning kayaker, taking a cave tour for the first time, or a seasoned paddler here for the paddling symposium, Door County has so much to offer the adventurous spirit, the competitive sports enthusiast, the conservationist, the winter lover, the wanderer, the game-player.
Venturing beyond the traditional boundaries of silent sports as defined by the late Greg Marr, who described it as “those activities powered by human propulsion—biking, kayaking, swimming, skiing, climbing, running—and leave minimal or no adverse impact on the environment behind them.” My story is expanded silent sports.
“Silent sports is a healthy lifestyle that offers camaraderie,” said Deb Neuville, Door County Silent Sports Alliance board member. “Our whole family gets involved and everyone feels better when they’re outside in nature.”
Silent does not mean that it is done only in seclusion. Many groups are formed to share the love of a sport, offer support, and have a gang to hang out with. “We offer group rides for biking three nights a week,” said Neuville. “People will bring food and snacks and hang out after the ride. Everybody’s welcome to join in.”
For those with an adventurous spirit, seeking to express their love for the outdoors, there are a number of opportunities within this luscious landscape. Bicycling is of course readily available. There are off-road paths in Peninsula State Park, Potawatomi, Newport, the Ahnapee Trail, and many quiet back roads to explore. There are three group century bicycle tours. But you don’t have to do the entire 100 miles. Shorter courses are offered, too, that are family friendly, non-competitive events.
For the paddling community there are 30+ boat launches all over the county. Those just starting out can rent at several outfitters. Or choose a kayaking tour, where seasoned guides take you to amazing places. For complete immersion in the kayak lifestyle, you can attend the Rutabaga Sea Kayak Symposium for an entire weekend of classes and events.
For those more interested in stand up paddle (SUP) boarding, bring your own board and explore 52 beaches, some more secluded than others. Or rent from Egg Harbor Beach and Whitefish Dunes. There are also yoga SUP classes available for a different kind of adventure.
For the extreme boarder, the bay in Baileys Harbor, including Anclam Beach, is the place for kite surfing and wing-surfing. “Wing-surfing is a hand-held wing that you can use with a foil board,” Chris Miller, kite surfing enthusiast, said. “Locally, it’s the new fast-growing experience.” Miller said there is a community of kite surfers that are always welcoming, but as yet there is no school or rentals. “And it does take training, strength and skill to be safe out on the water,” Miller added.
Sailing Door County’s 300 miles of shoreline was necessary transportation for our Indian and pioneer forbears, but it’s now a very popular recreation. You can rent and charter a sailboat and other craft at multiple locations throughout the county, especially in Sturgeon Bay and Ephraim. Scuba diving the local shipwrecks has been a public sport for decades and was even featured in the National Geographic article that put the county on the world tourism map in March 1969 (“A Kingdom So Delicious”). Even surfing has its adherents, with a dedicated contingent that surfs the waves out of Baileys Harbor on the Lake Michigan side of the Peninsula.
For competitive sports enthusiasts, Door County today boasts a half-marathon, a triathalon/half ironman, Fall 50 run and 11 other, smaller competitions.
With some truly challenging silent sport competitions, Door County is also becoming a destination for serious athletes. “We bring in thousands of people each year,” said Brian Fitzgerald, co-owner of Peninsula Pacers, a local company that organizes events. “We’ve found that the economic benefits attract people to the shoulder seasons. It allows us to showcase what we have.”
What we have are five beautiful state parks, quiet secondary roads, plus hotels, restaurants and quaintness. “We have a perfect infrastructure,” Fitzgerald said.
“I’ve raced all over the world and The Door County Half Marathon is one of my favorites,” Jenn Hadfield, Runner’s World, said. “It’s very well organized, it’s in the heart of beautiful and peaceful Door County, and the course rolls through some of the most picturesque half marathon miles in the world.”
There is a social component to these events too. Many running clubs will enter together and run in groups. “There is a strong network in running clubs,” Fitzgerald said. “They are creating a bond, not wanting to let teammates down. Most are going for the experience, their personal best. It’s about completing the race and being a part of it.”
For the quieter, less competitive soul, the conservationist, there are many more attractions. The Door peninsula and its surrounding islands boast five state parks, 19 county parks, dozens of local parks and four dog parks. From Forestville to Rock Island there are innumerable opportunities to commune with nature while hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, birding, hunting and fishing.
The Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve, maintain and enhance lands that contribute significantly to the scenic beauty, open space and ecological integrity of Door County. With a strong community commitment and partnership with the Nature Conservancy, the Ridges Sanctuary, Crossroads at Big Creek and The Clearing Folk School, the Door County Land Trust has protected more than 8,000 acres.
“We have 14 featured nature preserves with trails and parking areas that are great for outdoor silent sports enthusiasts,” Terrie Cooper, Community Conservation Director, said. “Look to the Land Trust hiking map for best trails for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching and other no-impact sports.”
If learning is more your style you can participate in year-round guided programs. You can also take an active interest in supporting conservation efforts. “We continue to create new nature preserves in the county and encourage folks to become supporters of the Land Trust through an annual membership,” Cooper said. “They receive breaking news about local conservation and invitations to a host of events that support our work and connect people with our protected lands.”
In addition to the Land Trust properties, you must visit the Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor and Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay for information on the history and preservation of these magical lands.
And don’t forget the Washington Island Birding Festival! On that self-same island, there’s also a true jewel of a state park. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but so worth it. First, drive to the tip of the Peninsula, to Northport Pier, then take Washington Island Ferry Line across Death’s Door to the island itself. Drive to the opposite side of the island to catch the Karfi, a passenger ferry to Rock Island State Park, a 912 acre, no-vehicles destination that offers rustic tent camping, hiking, and beaches. Rock Island also sports the first lighthouse built by the U.S. government on Lake Michigan (1846), Pottawatomi. The ferry dock on this unbelievably unique and beautiful island getaway features a hand-built stone boathouse and other stone buildings from a century ago.
For winter adventurers, a growing audience among the Peninsula’s visitors, there is the Door County Pond Hockey Tournament, and Sister Bay has a rousing broomball league and skating rink, brightly lit at night and with an outdoor fire pit to quickly warm up. The five state parks feature cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and candlelight ski evenings on specific dates. If thrill with no skill is what you’re looking for, sledding at Hill 17 in Peninsula State Park is popular with locals and visitors alike.
When the waters of Green Bay are reliably iced over, some adventurers turn to kite skiing or skating, using the often powerful wind to propel them over the snow. Ice fishing abounds on Green Bay, with a number of experienced local guides to guarantee a good catch. Fat tire biking has been a growing sport for years, for which snowmobile trails, closed park roads, and lake ice are all open to biking.
Finally, love a good game? Door County is home to 12 golf courses, four mini golf courses, seven public tennis courts, outdoor pickleball at the Northern Door YMCA, indoor pickleball at the Northern Door and Sturgeon Bay YMCA locations, and three bowling alleys.
For specific information on local silent sports events, equipment rentals, and experienced guides, visit any of these local tourism sites: doorcounty.com doorcounty.net, and doorcountypulse.com.