Construction coming for Sawyer Elementary

You will soon start seeing construction trailers and crews descend on the grounds of Sawyer Elementary School in Sturgeon Bay. A large portion of the $16.84 million referendum approved by Sturgeon Bay voters in April is going to fund an addition to be built at Sawyer Elementary School. When it is completed, the building will include classrooms for 4K students and a multi-use space for not just their youngest learners, but also for small community events. Superintendent Dan Tjernagel says the good news for taxpayers is the bids for the project came in lower than expected.

With construction expected to start in the next week or two, Tjernagel expects the addition will be completed in time for the 2021-2020 school year.


Picture courtesy of Sturgeon Bay School District

Google speeds up unemployment payments

People in Door and Kewaunee Counties who are still awaiting unemployment benefits could see their claims resolved by year's end. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is teaming up with Google to resolve those outstanding claims.  DWD figures currently show 70,070 claims with unresolved issues have yet to be processed.  The use of Google technology has already helped clear up over 100,000 applications.  That's raising hopes that the outstanding applications can be resolved before New Year's Day.   Jim Golembeski, Bay Area Workforce Development Board Executive Director, blames an outdated claims verification system. He applauds anything that can speed up needed unemployment benefits.

The DWD says thousands of people statewide have been waiting months for their claims to be paid. 

Building community through a pandemic

Door County Habitat for Humanity has been able to navigate their efforts through the pandemic in order to finish its 43rd home. Volunteers were not able to begin work on the home until early July due to COVID-19 concerns and then ran into roadblocks because of contractors catching up on their own backlog of work. Despite these challenges, Door County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Lori Allen says the Marvin family will be able to move into their new Baileys Harbor home before Christmas. Allen says it would not have been possible without their strong core of volunteers and some other breaks along the way.

Allen says Habitat volunteers are wrapping up some of their final outdoor home repair projects before the weather turns for the worse. The pandemic has put a temporary halt on their indoor home repair projects. Final details about the 43rd home dedication will be released in the near future.


Pictures courtesy of Door County Habitat for Humanity



Visitor centers team up to Shop Door County

Visitor centers across Door County are determined to keep holiday shopping dollars local this year. Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the organizations have helped launch Shop Door County, a Facebook page where area businesses can show off their items, offer different services, and keep consumers updated on deals. Currently, there are 243 members contributing to the page. Carly Sarkis from Destination Sturgeon Bay says local businesses are doing their part to make sure they can serve their customers safely.

Sarkis says the success of its Unwrapping Sturgeon Bay event last week gave the community a spark it has not seen in a while. According to American Express, approximately 67 cents out of every dollar spent with local businesses stay in the area.

Dialogue between farmers, urban areas important

Brussels crop farmer Michael Vandenhouten feels it is important for those in agriculture to get involved on the local level and talk with those that are not. Farmers on committees dealing with land and water conservation efforts are nothing new for Door and Kewaunee counties. Vandenhouten has served on the Door County Land Conservation Committee for several years as a Farm Service Agency appointee. In Kewaunee County, Aaron Augustian and Nick Guilette serve on the Land and Water Conservation Committee that was formerly chaired by the late John Pagel. Vandenhouten’s role as one of the three Farm Service Agency representatives in Door County is to make sure government programs are implemented correctly for agriculture. He feels being able to give an agriculture perspective on that level is important because of the disconnect between farmers and residents living in more urban areas.

Vandenhouten appreciates people who come out to their meetings to speak about the concerns so the dialogue can occur. He says that is especially important since many farmers believe there are too many regulations, while those living in more urban areas think there are not enough. The Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month, while the Door County Land Conservation Committee usually gathers on the second Thursday of each month.


Picture courtesy of Peninsula Pride Farms

Lodging owners positive about future

After a rough start to the year due to the onset of the pandemic, things are looking up for Door County’s lodging industry. According to the statistics from the Door County Tourism Zone, occupancy rates have been rebounding since July.  Fewer rooms have been made available, but September marked the first month since January that the occupancy rate exceeded its 2019 totals at 57 percent. It has been within three percent of 2019’s average since July.  Room rates have also been able to climb as well, ranging from $5 to $24 a room higher on average compared to 2019.  Open Hearth Lodge owner Nora Zacek says many new visitors to Sister Bay stepped in to fill the rooms of others who did not feel comfortable traveling this year.

The positive trajectory gave Zacek and her husband John the confidence to move forward with their plans to expand for the second time since 2015. She says the rooms will all be pet-friendly after noticing more visitors are less likely to travel without their furry companions.


Photo from Open Hearth Lodge

Land Trust's 2021 impact spanning county

The Door County Land Trust has several active acquisition projects planned for 2021.  Executive Director Tom Clay says plans call for expansion of Kellner Fen Nature Preserve near Sturgeon Bay, Big and Little Marsh State Natural Area on Washington Island, Gibraltar-Ephraim swamp acreage, White Cliff Fen in Egg Harbor and Chambers Island Nature Preserve which is closing in on over 1,000 acres.  Clay says besides expansion to nature preserves located north of Sturgeon Bay, southern Door County properties are presenting opportunities as well.



Clay adds that a beautiful property near Stony Creek is also being considered for protection.  The Door County Land Trust manages over 8,500 acres of properties in the county.  You can find a complete listing of Door County Land Trust nature preserve here and the full interview with Tom Clay on the podcast page.





Families and farmers getting help in Door County

The Door County Food Pantry Coalition has again partnered with USDA to bring Farmers to Families Food Box events to community members next month.  The events started in June and have helped hundreds of area families in need while providing support to the agricultural sector during the pandemic emergency.  Dakota Londo of the Door County Food Pantry Coalition explains that people can line up their vehicles fifteen minutes before distribution begins.



Londo adds that people should remain in their vehicles and pop the trunk or open the back seat doors for easy delivery.  Volunteers will load in the food boxes containing enough food to feed a family of four or five.  December events will be Friday, December 4th from 4:00-6:00 at the Liberty Grove/ Sister Bay Fire Department on Mill Road and from 4:30-6:00 at John Miles County Park in Sturgeon Bay.

Hunter gun safety emphasized for final weekend

The final weekend of the 2020 nine-day deer hunting season brings to mind added gun safety concerns after a fatality on Washington Island last Sunday.  Door County DNR Conservation Warden Chris Kratcha says following the four rules of firearm safety is extremely important.  Those rules include always pointing the muzzle of your gun in a safe direction, treating every firearm as if it is loaded, being sure of your target and beyond, and finally keeping your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.  He says pointing out any shortcomings by your hunting buddies can potentially save a life.



Kratcha says eight of the last ten hunting seasons were fatality-free during the statewide gun deer season and single digit non-fatal incidents the past ten years as well.  The DNR released a hunting incident report Friday that showed four hunters were injured by gunshots, including the death in Door County.  While hunting on Washington Island, Steven Hoogester of West Bend died after accidentally shooting himself while exiting his ground blind on November 22.  The nine-day deer hunt concludes Sunday at dusk. 

Dystopian future book headlines Big Read

Door County Library’s Morgan Mann insists that the book selected for this year’s National Endowment for the Arts Big Read was chosen well before the pandemic struck the world. This year’s book, “Station Eleven” is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, twenty years after the initial collapse of civilization when culture is reshaping itself and defining a new normal. While readers can start flipping pages this weekend thanks to a free book giveaway at area branches on Friday, NEA Big Read events will start taking place virtually in January. The events include performances, lectures, and a Q&A session with the book’s author Emily St. John Mandel. Mann says given the world around us right now, she believes this is a powerful book for people to check out.

Mann is excited to see how high participation can get now that people can tune into the events across the world and read the book on their smart device. The Door County Library system is one of eight in the state and 84 in the country to be rewarded an NEA grant to participate in the program. Since the libraries are open by appointment only right now, you have to call ahead to reserve a copy.

Kerwin to return to roof for United Way

With the United Way of Door County about halfway to its $650,000 goal for its annual campaign, Board President Peter Kerwin knows what he needs to do. The organization announced last week that Kerwin would sit on the roof of the ERA Starr Realty building on December 3rd until he can help raise $15,000 for the campaign. It is not the first time he has done it, noting he has learned the importance of dressing warmly and having some friends come by and visit. With the work the United Way of Door County has done during the pandemic so far and the demand for its services expected to grow in 2021, Kerwin says the time spent on the roof will be well worth it.

Kerwin will begin his roof sit-in at 7 a.m. on December 3rd where passersby can either donate in person or via the phone and online. Things are already looking up for Kerwin on that day with an expected high of about 32 degrees and no precipitation in the forecast.


Picture courtesy of United Way of Door County

Church learns to serve better through pandemic

The United Methodist Churches of Algoma and West Kewaunee have made sure kids had what they needed to get through a weekend for years, but it took a pandemic for them to do it even better. The churches have been collecting items to fill up backpacks for Algoma-area school children to take home with enough food and other items so they had less to worry about over the weekend. When schools closed in March, it forced the congregation to have conversations with the people they served and find out what their true needs were. Pastor Jennifer Emert says it has been a blessing to learn more about their community members while continuing to help.

Emert says the churches have also provided Monday night dinners to the Algoma Wolf Den program, even taking the program virtual for a little bit after two high school students tested positive for COVID-19. She calls the situation dynamic as some families have sunk deeper into poverty. Others have spoken up and said "thank you," but their situation improved enough that they no longer needed the assistance.


Picture courtesy of Algoma United Methodist Church

Potawatomi tower close to possible national designation

Supporters of the Potawatomi State Park Tower should know within a few weeks if the U.S. Department of Interior will name the structure to the National Register.  The state’s preservation review board voted unanimously last week to designate the tower as a historic place.  Jason Flatt, a historical preservation specialist and consultant from Marinette, who writes national register nominations for historic buildings, was commissioned by the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society to do the legwork in getting the Potawatomi State Park Tower designated to the state register of historic places.  He says the tower met two of the four criteria needed to be considered for historic preservation.



Flatt notes that Potawatomi State Park Tower was the first purpose-built recreation observation tower erected in a state park or forest (Eagle Tower in Fish Creek was initially designed as a fire lookout tower). The Sturgeon Bay Historical Society has fought to restore the tower, while the Wisconsin DNR had deemed the tower unsafe to climb and proposed razing the structure.  Flatt adds that state law is clear that the DNR is now required to work with the State Historic Preservation Office in determining the future of the tower.  


(submitted photo)

Area reports nearly 50 new positive cases, 62 recoveries

For the second day in-a-row Door County saw recoveries outnumber positive cases of COVID-19.  On Wednesday, Door County Public Health reported 12 new coronavirus cases with 39 recoveries noted.  The positivity rate remained low at ten percent and active cases dropped to 622.  One additional hospitalization was noted in Door County.


Kewaunee County Public Health disclosed 37 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday with 23 new recoveries.  The positivity rate was just over 50 percent of the tests reported.  The active cases in Kewaunee County increased eight to 144 with hospitalizations dropping from six to four.   


The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 63 more deaths on Friday with 248 additional hospitalizations.  The positivity rate in the state remained relatively high at 31.7 percent as 5,464 more positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.  



Lienau resigns from Sister Bay Village Board

Village of Sister Bay Board President Dave Lienau has submitted his resignation after serving in that role since 2013. Lienau issued his resignation effective Tuesday after being offered the position of manager of the Sister Bay Marina. The Sister Bay Village Board will meet on December 1st to decide if it will accept Lienau’s resignation and how it will move forward. Village administrator Beau Bernhoft says a board member can fill in on a pro tem basis until the spring election or leave the post vacant.

Lienau, who served on the Sister Bay Village Board for 13 years in total, was going to be up for election in April. His decision to resign does not affect his role on the Door County Board where he serves as the body’s chairperson.


Picture courtesy of Door County

Stephens applauds work of nurses and doctors

Door County Medical Center President and CEO Brian Stephens knows his team of nurses and doctors are tired, but he is proud of how they have persevered. Approximately 85 percent of the positive tests in Door County have come since the beginning of September. The Door County Public Health Department has reported 57 positive tests this week as of Wednesday morning. Stephens says many of the doctors and nurses have worked for weeks straight, without a lot of time off, due to the demand at the hospital and staff members that have been forced to quarantine. He says they are doing what they can to help their team’s mental and emotional health during this stretch.

He adds that the team has been able to do amazing things by working together, as it relates to how many patients they can care for and types of conditions they are seeing.

Baileys ram in full sheep experience

The pandemic has certainly not slowed down Casco Comets 4-H members Wyatt and Savannah Bailey. There are no off days when it comes to caring for their sheep at Bailey’s Little Pastures After all of their other shows were canceled this year, the pair recently had their fitted early ram earn Reserve Champion status at the North American International Livestock Expo in Louisville, Ky. Wyatt says the work before their “show-cations” starts right now as they prepare for the first lambs to be born in the coming months.

Savannah thinks more people should look into exhibiting sheep, though there are some things you should keep in mind.

The Baileys raise their sheep from lamb to lamb chop. Savannah says the money they earn at animal sales or through other avenues go towards raising their sheep and their future college education. You can listen to our full conversation on our podcasts page.


Picture courtesy of United Junior Suffolk Sheep Association - UJSSA

Voters group returns to court

A conservative voting rights group with Kewaunee County ties hopes it can get a date with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Voter Alliance is calling for the high court to prevent the certification of the fall election and let the Wisconsin Legislature decide who gets the state’s ten Electoral College votes. They say it is necessary because clerks in some counties allegedly accepted absentee ballots without the proper signatures, did not have an accompanying application, or identified as indefinitely confined when they may have not been. Wisconsin Voter Alliance President and Kewaunee County Republican Party Chairperson Ron Heuer says thousands of ballots could be considered fraudulent. With a team of over 150 people, Heuer says they have proof that approximately 6,900 voters casting a ballot may have done so as non-residents and 96,000 were found to be not indefinitely confined as they indicated on their ballot. Heuer says the viability and the integrity of the election system is something that should be a concern of every voter.

Heuer says if things were reversed, Democratic-leaning groups might be leading the charge but their work would still be relevant.

Heuer hopes their work will also help keep private money out of government-run elections, referring to the group’s earlier lawsuit against municipalities like Green Bay and Madison for accepting grant funding from the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Center for Technology and Civic Life. That lawsuit was thrown out in October.  You can listen to our full interview with Heuer on our podcast page.


Picture from

Conservation grants mean more greenspace in Door County

Two communities in Door County are working on obtaining a grant through the Department of Natural Resources to aid in land purchases.  The Village of Sister Bay is looking to acquire a piece of property that has about 600 feet of shoreline on Pebble Beach with help of an Urban Green Space grant.  The grant is part of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program that would assist the village in purchasing the 16.8 acres of land along the bay of Green Bay.  Village Administrator Beau Bernhoft says the plan is to provide public access and to allow for low-impact recreational use.  He says efforts are being made to get people involved in the project that is connected with the Door County Land Trust.



The parcel of land being considered for the grant is over 90 percent forested with a unique beachfront.  Bernhoft says the Village of Sister Bay is fortunate to be able to purchase the Pebble Beach property and work with the Door County Land Trust in order to secure conservation and ensure the beauty of the natural landscape.  The Village of Egg Harbor also requested for an Urban Green Space grant to assist in the purchase of 1.2 acres of wooded waterfront property with 171 feet of shoreline along the bay of Green Bay.  


(photo of Pebble Beach)


Door and Kewaunee counties see more deer hunters

The 2020 firearms deer season is drawing more hunters to forests and fields around Door and Kewaunee counties.  Preliminary totals show nearly 1063 deer were taken in Door County while 1020 were harvest in Kewaunee County during the weekend opener.  The Department of Natural Resources, however, says nearly 560,000 hunters purchased firearms deer tags statewide this season, which marks an increase from 2019.  Wildlife Biologist Joshua Martinez says that was evident at first glance around public hunting lands.

A total of 95,257 deer were harvested statewide during the opening weekend of the 2020 nine-day gun deer hunt. That compares to 93,155 in 2019.


Death toll climbs to 19 in Kewaunee County

Kewaunee County reported their 19th coronavirus death on Tuesday as the area saw a slight slowing of positive tests of COVID-19.

Kewaunee County did see a higher positivity rate of over fifty percent as 26 new cases were reported.  Active cases decreased to 139 with 28 new recoveries noted.  There was one more hospitalization on Tuesday in Kewaunee County bringing the current total to six.

Door County added 10 more coronavirus cases but the positivity rate was under ten percent.  Recoveries went up 72 to lower the active cases to 664.  No new hospitalizations were disclosed.


A single-day record of 104 deaths from COVID-19 was reported by the state’s Department of Health Services.  This comes after no deaths on Sunday and six on Monday.  Statewide positive tests for the coronavirus were over 6,200 with a positivity rate of 37.6 percent.  



Rotary Interact raises $2,450 for Thanksgiving meals

Forty-nine local families will have a happier Thanksgiving this year thanks to generosity of the Sturgeon Bay community. The Rotary Interact Club at Sturgeon Bay High School raised $2450 through an online fundraiser over the last few weeks. On Monday, the club bought the gift certificates from Tadych’s EconoFoods in Sturgeon Bay to be distributed by Feed my People, Clothe My People in Sturgeon Bay.  Sturgeon Bay High School Junior Maggie Stephens says the community support for the no-contact fundraiser meant a lot to them.

Tadych’s Econofoods manager Jon Calhoun says whenever Door County has a chance to help out, they deliver.

The Rotary Interact Club will keep their focus on feeding area families in need with their upcoming project benefiting local food pantries.

Doctors, health professionals discouraging holiday gatherings

“Don’t let Thanksgiving become the Last Supper” was the message Door County Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Heise shared last week and is being echoed across the country ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, Door County Medical Center President/CEO Brian Stephens, Door County Board Chairperson Dave Lienau, and Sturgeon Bay Mayor David Ward released a joint effort to follow the public health advisory issued by Door County Health Officer Sue Powers last week. The statement asks residents and visitors to take the proper mitigation steps while acknowledging the difficult decision to avoid holiday gatherings. The request comes after the Mott’s Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan found that one in three U.S. parents feel that gathering with family during the pandemic is worth the risk of spreading COVID-19. Heise said during the panel that other options should be explored.

Heise and the other physicians are anticipating a spike in positive COVID-19 a few weeks after Thanksgiving. Acknowledging that families will likely get together, the doctors encouraged people to get creative by masking for at least part of the time, opening a window, inviting a smaller group of people, or eating in the garage.




Assisted living, nursing homes battling COVID

Assisted living and skilled nursing centers in Door and Kewaunee counties have not been spared from the impact of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Late last month, Door County Medical Center announced a number of its residents and staff members were infected with the coronavirus. President and CEO Brian Stephens told last week that they have turned a corner since then, but there are still some active cases within the facility. They have not been alone in those regards as a number of other skilled-nursing and assisted-living centers in Door and Kewaunee Counties were handling their own outbreaks. Earlier this month, Kewaunee County Public Health Director Cindy Kinnard told the Kewaunee County Board that a number of new positive cases and deaths in the area had come from such facilities. Kinnard says assisted living and nursing homes need to follow the guidelines that are in place not just to keep their residents and staff safe but also to be able to admit new patients.

Governor Tony Evers announced last week $131 million in funding to help close the gap in staffing issues, long-term care direct payment program supplements, and post-acute care admission incentives. On a positive note, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recognized close to 1,100 nursing homes, including Algoma Medical Center, for having at least 50 percent of its staff complete COVID-19 training.

Sturgeon Bay offers one more leaf collection

Sturgeon Bay residents are getting one more chance to rake their yards and get leaves to the curb for collection.  The lack of early snow and a stretch of unseasonably warm weather is making it possible for public works crews to make one more collection for the season.  Municipal Services Director Mike Barker says his department has been gearing up for winter but he's never seen such autumn conditions in his time with the department.

Leaf collection is currently underway on the west side in zones 4 and 5. Leaf collection will end with the first snowfall.



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