What I Learned From Door County, Wisconsin

After living in Door County for three long and exciting months, I learned many new things about the area. Here are some of my findings:

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1.       Highways 42 and 57 will take you almost anywhere.

Once you have the general feel of Door County, there is no need for a map. Just point your car in the correct direction and drive. Highway 42 travels up the west side of the peninsula while highways 57 travels up the east side. Just before Sturgeon Bay (the southern end of Door County), the two highways merge into one. You will never get lost, and even if you do, highways 42 and 57 are only a short distance away!

3.     Cash please, not credit.

One thing I had never encountered before was the $10 purchase minimum rule. In order to use a credit card or debit card, the purchase total must cost at least $10 otherwise you have to pay with cash.  At first this rule really confused me because I had never seen a minimum purchase requirement before. I was not used to carrying cash, and I hated seeing my cash physically disappear before my eyes when I spent it. But I learned that this rule tremendously helps the local businesses make a profit, which I fully support in a county almost entirely built on tourism. By enforcing the $10 minimum rule, local businesses can avoid the high fees associated with running a credit card transaction and avoid barely making any profit off of a sale. I still apply this rule to my shopping now, especially with local businesses, by paying in cash for smaller purchases. Without Door County, I never would have understood this concept.

3.       You’re never too old to applaud at a sunset.

One of the most peculiar, yet fascinating things about Door County was the fact that people applauded the sunsets. People gathered at restaurants, beaches, houses, or anywhere they could find overlooking Green Bay to simply watch the sun set. As the sun finally dipped below the horizon, people applauded. It was the weirdest concept for me to understand before I experienced it myself. My coworkers and I tried for days to find an applause-worthy sunset, but every night we went searching the skies were cloudy. Finally we found a sunset worthy of remarkable applause and we clapped our hearts out.

4.       Appreciate art.

Door County is filled with different kinds of art. Painting, pottery, music, theatre…there are so many options. I highly appreciated the inspirational atmosphere of Door County. With visits to Peninsula Players, the Hardy Gallery, Birch Creek, other local galleries, and all around the peninsula, I learned to really love all of the artistic talent in Door County. It truly is a place for artists of all kinds.

5.       Take the back roads

Even though highways 42 and 57 can get you almost anymore, driving around in Door County during tourist season can be a mess. If you’re there for only a couple days, by all means enjoy the highways and looking at all of the businesses and beauty of the land. If you’re there for more, stick to the back roads. They can cut down half the time simply because of the huge reduction in traffic. Any highway that cuts across the peninsula is a life saver, and especially highway A, which cuts up the middle of the peninsula. Take the back roads to save yourself some driving time!

6.       State park passes rock!

My favorite part of Door County was the ease of access to so many wonderful state parks. The first week of my residence in Door County, I purchased myself a state park pass and used it almost every week (sometimes almost every day of every week). From Newport State Park, to Peninsula State Park, to Whitefish Dunes State Park…there are endless places to go with a state park pass. If you love the outdoors, a state park pass is a great option. It provided me an entire summer of entertainment, and I still use it throughout the rest of Wisconsin today. 

7.       Don’t speed

One of the first things I was told by one of my bosses this summer was “Don’t speed.” Being a grandma driver, I knew I really didn’t have to worry about my own driving habits. But I was curious if the cops really were that harsh or if that was just a rumor meant to scare the new girl. Within the first day of being in Door County, I saw 3 different cars pulled over in the same place in Egg Harbor. On my first day on the job, the lady who I was riding with was pulled over as well. I never really had a problem with speeding, but I will pass on that you might be pulled over for simply going 5 miles over the speed limit. Just be wary of the speed limits when coming into all of the towns of Door County. They can sometimes seem too slow, but they are enforced very well. 

8.       Appreciate the workers

Finally, when exploring Door County make sure to appreciate all of the workers that make everything possible. Many of the workers put in ungodly hours during tourist season to make ends meet. Times are stressful, so just a simple smile and conversation can make a worker’s day. Talk to the locals; they are knowledgeable about local businesses and are more than happy to help you find what you need. 

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Birch Creek Music Performance Center

Birch Creek Music Performance Center is one of Door County’s attractions that is very dear to my heart. This summer, I had the wonderful privilege of working there as a public relations intern. I was able to see up close and personal the talented young musicians, highly respected faculty members, and incredible people behind the scenes who make everything come together.

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For those who have never heard of Birch Creek, it is a summer music school where talented young musicians typically the ages of 14 to 19 come for two weeks of intensive, performance-based instruction. Now, these students are not just taught by anyone. Birch Creek brings in respected faculty members from universities and ensembles all across the country. A small list of some of the faculty I had the opportunity to meet this summer includes Liam Teague (a phenomenal steelpan artist from Trinidad and Tobago), Robert Hanford (concertmaster of the Lyric Opera Orchestra), Jodie DeSalvo (an incredible pianist who has won countless awards and has played at Carnegie Hall), Joey Tartell (a trumpet genius who has played with Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, and Glenn Miller), and Tanya Darby (a previous member of the Grammy All-Star Band who has played with the Count Basie Orchestra among many others).

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The students are at Birch Creek for two weeks at a time under one of the following sessions: Symphony, Percussion, Jazz I or Jazz II. The students receive new music almost the moment they arrive and are expected to perform a concert within just a few days. The music is not easy either. It always amazed me every session how the students could pick it up so quickly and how dedicated they were to practicing. It also impressed me how well these big name faculty members were able to relate to the students and inspire them to be the best musicians they could be.

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There are 3-4 concerts every week that the public can purchase tickets to and attend. Both the students and the faculty play in every concert. The concerts take place inside a 100-year-old concert barn with prelude and intermission music that take place in an outdoor gazebo surrounded by benches. Imagine being surrounded by music in the cool,peaceful summer nights of Door County. That was my end of the week every week this summer. So cool!

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Living in residence at Birch Creek this summer was an opportunity that was so wonderful, and I am beyond happy that I spent my time there. I lived among young musicians who are going to do spectacular things with their lives and many faculty members who have already created themselves a legacy. All of the people who work behind the scenes at Birch Creek are just as passionate about their jobs and about music as the musicians are themselves, and they made the experience even more meaningful for me. Most of you will not get the chance to experience the entirety of Birch Creek that I experienced, but if you are ever in Door County you should definitely attend one of the concerts so you too can experience the magic in the music!

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Ashley, John, Me, and April (Some of the summer staff at Birch Creek)

The Hardy Gallery

Art.

Door County is filled with it. Whether it is the picturesque landscape, the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan, or the rolling hills at the entrance to almost every town, Door County has so much to offer artistically. Many artists have taken notice, and Door County has truly become a place for inspiration and for art.

One of the places in Door County that greatly embraces art and encourages it is called the Hardy Gallery. I cannot claim that I know very much about the Hardy Gallery’s history or even its everyday operations. All I know is that my creative senses were tingling when I was there, and it was awesome.

Inside the Hardy Gallery is art of course. When I visited, it was filled with artwork from a local artist. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the artist’s name, but their work was spectacular!

The Hardy Gallery’s building itself is a work of art. The outside of the building, as seen in the picture, is covered with art! I was told that people are allowed to paint on the Hardy Gallery with a couple rules. Now the building is COVERED with paintings. Such a cool place!! If you have a little time, peek your head inside the gallery to enjoy the art and take a few fun pictures outside the building as well!ImageImageImageImage