Eco Efforts

Inside Ridges Sanctuary, Door County

Twenty-two years. That’s how long the dwarf lake iris has sat on the federal list of threatened plants, but I know where it grows like a weed during this time of year. Hundreds of the tiny blue-purple flowers, most no bigger than a thumbnail, mingle among junipers and pop through sand at The Ridges Sanctuary(…)

Down to Earth Tours study state’s northwest

One of the first things Dave Thorson does, when he stops his 14-passenger bus, is take out a pouch of tobacco and talk about a ritual that goes back thousands of years. We are at the wild and unblemished Totogatic Flowage in northwest Sawyer County, and Dave tosses bits of tobacco in four directions, as(…)

Green Leaf Inn, Delavan, sets eco-bar high

If you presume that sustainable living requires a high degree of personal sacrifice, listen to the developers of eco-serious lodging near the tourism-rich Lake Geneva area. “We want to show people that they don’t have to eat granola bars and camp out to be green,” says Catherine McQueen, who with husband Fritz Kreiss plan to(…)

Milwaukee: Lakefront Brewery makes history

Russ Klisch decided to ferment beer after brother Jim gave home brewing a try. “It wasn’t the worst thing I ever had,” Russ deadpans, but he figured he could do it better. That was 1982, and Russ (schooled as a chemist) today operates an unconventional laboratory in a former Cream City brick power plant. His(…)

Lurie Garden, in Chicago’s Millennium Park

I did not expect much when meeting Jennifer Davit, to take a look at her garden. Spring had barely arrived, and the last snow had barely melted. What I discovered was the enthusiasm that blossoms early and often when people feel a connection to the land. Do you see empty branches or the steady sprouting(…)

L’Etoile, Madison, expands ‘go local’ mission

Chef Tory Miller buys not steaks and chops but whole cows and pigs from local farms, using as much of the animals as possible in his fine dining menus. Such practices are not uncommon for a well-trained chef who truly wants to lessen unnecessary waste while supporting the work of local farmers. Tory is among(…)

Wellspring: farm hostel, retreat center, CSA

When I met Jeff Schreiber, he was taking a break from the vegetable harvest to prepare lunch for his work crew. That meant roasting Brussels sprouts and simmering a pot of carrot-ginger soup. For dessert: sweet potato pie. To drink: tap water. Simple, nourishing and down-home. This is the vibe that permeates Wellspring, an organic(…)

Sea otters, belugas at Chicago’s Shedd

Rain tends to drive tourists indoors, but that’s not entirely why the soggy line to enter Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium was a block long on a recent weekday. Many came to see what a pregnant whale looks like, since the Shedd had just announced that two of its seven belugas will give birth this fall. The(…)

Photographer captures Ice Age Trail’s beauty

When I talked to Bart Smith this month, it wasn’t all that long after he had finished a hike that took him at least 15,000 miles around the U.S., including around 1,200 in Wisconsin. Bart is a photographer who has walked all eight of the National Park Service’s national scenic trails. That includes the Ice(…)

LEED leaders in Michigan: Hotels, museums

Before George Heartwell’s 2004 election as mayor of Grand Rapids, Mich., he was a preacher for the United Church of Christ. Evangelizing continues, but the focus has shifted. The mayor is out to paint his city of 200,000 green, as in eco-friendly. That’s a fashionable color and crowded bandwagon these days, but Grand Rapids has(…)

Inside UP’s remote Isle Royale National Park

Our 100-passenger ferry is rocking me like a drunken, slapdash sailor, so my eyes stay closed during most of this three-hour ride. I am a wimp, with a thankfully empty stomach, who dares not stand or eye the ever-tilting horizon. Never expect Lake Superior to behave. This body of water has chosen exuberance over obedience(…)

Rock Island: least-visited state park in Wis.

The handwritten sign says “Rock Island Café,” and the only thing on the menu is fresh berries during this time of year. The sequence begins with strawberries in early July, then raspberries and thimbleberries. As summer inches into fall, blackberries ripen. You won’t see an actual restaurant, and berries are free for the taking, but(…)

Artha Center leads Travel Green Wisconsin

The number of eco-friendly tourism businesses that qualify for Travel Green Wisconsin certification has tripled since one year ago, to 160 as Earth Day approaches. The leading example of them all – based upon points earned from the long list of criteria – is a retreat, yoga studio and sustainable workshop site in central Wisconsin.(…)

Witness prairie chicken dances at dawn

The funky dancing begins at the onset of dawn, and it is a private affair – a ritual that starts with cooing, and the low hum of interplay seems almost meditative. The guys strut like flamboyant show-offs, and the gals act like they’d rather not be bothered, yet they linger. A neck patch of brilliant(…)

BOW weekends connect women to outdoors

We have spa manicures, and we get dirt under our nails. Our cheeks are ruddy from wind, and eyeliner enlarges our eyes. We wear jackets in camouflage colors and delicate pinks when we head outdoors. We want a thick red fox hat in our closet, with mittens to match, and the knowledge of how to(…)

Sylvania Wilderness: virgin timbers, pure air

We all have our own ideas about where the Northwoods begins, but how do you define true wilderness? Is it simply the lack of condo developments? A disappearance of road signs? The suspicion that more critters inhabit an area than people? Many trees, no cows? Follow U.S. 45 north, during a deer hunting or downhill(…)

Wisconsin leads earth-friendly tourism efforts

When Kelli Trumble exuberantly addressed visitors about “my bee-YOO-ti-ful state” recently, her words were an ode to an elite quartet of Wisconsin natives. She spoke proudly of conservationists Aldo Leopold and John Muir, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of organic architecture (structure design that blends respectfully with nature). “We(…)

Dairy farm turns into pampering, rural retreat

Sixty years on Earth, 40 years of marriage, 20 years in business. This is how Donna Justin explains her reasons for celebrating this autumn. She and husband Don own and operate Justin Trails Resort, about 225 acres near Sparta, a third-generation dairy farm that has been transformed to cater to romantics, nature lovers and silent(…)

Maribel mystery: How deep do caves go?

It was late winter as I headed toward Door County, in the mood for snaking around on county roads. The ruins appeared unexpectedly, so I braked and shifted into reverse. “Maribell Caves Hotel,” a small sign announced, and only the limestone exterior remained in the otherwise barren field. There were no windows, no roof and(…)

Leopold Legacy Center near landmark shack

We are surrounded by wood: a cherry hardwood floor, a red maple ceiling, white oak doors, a black locust deck. But most of the panels, posts and beams are pine – Leopold Pine, a reference to the thousands of evergreens planted by the legendary environmentalist in the 1930s and 1940s, in what is today the(…)