I recently concluded a week-long class at The Clearing, a folk art school in Door County’s Ellison Bay. The Clearing, named for the opportunity for students to “clear their mind,” is a place where people can learn a craft or enhance their skills at such things as writing, painting, music, yoga, metal sculpture, woodworking, and mindfulness. It’s also a chance to de-stress. A person breathes differently amongst the 128 acres of stately pines, hawthorns, maples, and oaks. Worries fade away while wandering in the meadows or listening to the waves of Green Bay as they roll onto the shore.
The Clearing is also a place where people gather and linger, feeling the presence of the conservationists who were wise enough to preserve spaces such as this. Founded in 1935 by landscape architect Jens Jensen, The Clearing’s mission statement expresses their wish that visitors will love it as a special place where one could feel kinship with the earth and reassess one’s life, reconnecting with nature and with one another.” Without visionaries like Jens Jensen, this area would have been scooped up by developers, and be mainly condos, ice cream shops, and souvenir stores.
Jens Jensen wasn’t the only visionary in Door County. In my “Touch the Earth” class taught by Deb Gille, I explored nearby areas such as Toft Point, which the feisty Emma Toft fought to save. Emma and her family preserved the shoreline and 732 acres of old-growth forest referred to as “Toft Point.” The site hosts many rare species, such as an emerald dragonfly and dwarf lake iris. The property will always remain undeveloped thanks to an agreement reached in the late 1960s between the Toft family, the University of Wisconsin, and The Nature Conservancy. It will serve as an outdoor laboratory and a sanctuary.
Who are the forward thinkers in your hometown? In Wisconsin Dells, the Ho-chunk were the first people to care for the land and the river. George Crandall and his wife Nellie Bennett Crandall believed “no one could own the Dells” and were responsible for acquiring, preserving, and reforesting hundreds of acres along the Wisconsin River. Tim Johnson, who worked for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, acquired more property along the river. Frank and Mariana Weinhold created a conservation easement for Louis’ Bluff. Information about the fascinating history of this 200’ bluff can be found at https://louisbluff.com/. Currently, we’re fortunate to have the Stewards of the Dells, led by Amanda McGowan and Joe Leute, working to preserve and protect the natural beauty of our area.
Take a walk on our lovely River Walk, which begins on Broadway next to the Upper Dells boat landing, or on one of the “Dells of the Wisconsin River” trails. One that is rarely busy, The Cambrian Overlook, is located at 804 61st St, Wisconsin Dells, and allows you to hike down to a sandy beach. Another, Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area, is off of River Road just north of Birchcliff Resort.
As I enjoy these scenic walks, I will feel the presence of the past and present visionaries, allowing me and future generations to connect with nature. May their legacies live on.