Exploring a portion of Crossroads at Big Creek on September 17th is one way you can thank the generosity of Ida Bay. The Ida Bay Preserve was initially donated to The Nature Conservancy by her estate in the 1990s, but it was then gifted the 60-plus acre tract of land to Crossroads at Big Creek in 2013. Over the last three decades, the land has been regarded as a natural area, with only restoration work done to remove invasive species. Interpretative naturalist Coggin Heeringa says the land itself has a fascinating history behind it.
Crossroads at Big Creek will host Ida Bay Day, which will also serve as a kick-off to the 2022 Fall Archaeological Experience, on September 17th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the release of its new trail maps, which will include a history of the parcel on it. Exhibits, demonstrations, music, and refreshments will also be a part of the celebration. Crossroads will also host guided hikes around the Ida Bay Preserve at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
You can learn more about the Ida Bay Preserve and the upcoming celebration below. Text and picture courtesy of Crossroads at Big Creek.
We often explain to visitors that Ida Bay is not a body of water, but rather the name of the woman who preserved and donated the land to The Nature Conservancy (TNC). In December of 2013, TNC legally transferred ownership of the 64-acre parcel to Crossroads. Since then, the preserve has become a remarkable showcase for interpreting geology and forest ecology. As we got to know our new property, we also examined the many ways it has been used by humans over the years and realized that the preserve is a microcosm of Door County history.
We knew that First Peoples often created seasonal encampments along ancient lake shores, so we contacted our friends at Midwest Archaeological Consultants. They agreed to look at the topography. On the first survey day, (I think maybe the second shovelful), they found a motherload of pottery, presumably from the Late Woodland Period. So for the past decade, Crossroads has sponsored archaeological digs at Ida Bay. Because we are educators, we have included students from all Door County school districts, private schools and interested adults in authentic, archaeologist-supervised digs at the preserve. They have unearthed lithics, pottery, and organic materials verifying a significant occupation.
We also found evidence of European settlers on the land. With grant funding from the Door County Community Foundation and the Maihaugen Foundation, were able to fund an archaeologist-in-residence position. We engaged historical archaeologist Emily Rux to do a literature search and shovel-test the land to learn the stories of the people who have lived or labored on the land since the 1850s.
Based on land records and old maps, we speculate, but have yet to find evidence, that a portage trail may have crossed the land. Land records indicate that the forest was selectively cut in the 1850s. And thanks to local legend (and the presence of a very old building foundation), we believe the preserve was the site of a rooming house for Ship Canal workers.
Most surprising to us was the fact that the hospitality industry also made use of the property. The Cove Resort was a going concern in the early 1900s, hosting as many as 200 people and boasting a dock, dance hall, Door County's first swimming pool and many guest cottages. Most of the resort was along the waterfront, not on our property, but several cottages were on our property as was the truck farm that supplied the hotel dining room.
Aerial surveys document that until the 1960s, the land supported orchards and farm fields and migrant housing. Ida Bay's home (which is not a part of the preserve) was an antique store. And of course, now, Crossroads practices land restoration on the property.