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Looking Ahead: Autumn Colors and More

Around Halloween, we seem to take pleasure in all things spooky. So this week at Crossroads, all of our activities will have a slightly creepy vibe, understanding, of course, that the sinister superstitions of the season almost always can be explained by science. 

Our Saturday Science Program will explore how clouds contribute to creating “dark and stormy nights.” The Restoration Fall Color Tour will delve into the question, “Are invasive species evil?” 

 And on Halloween Night, a live vulture will grace the lecture hall at the Collins Learning Center when representatives from the Open Door Bird Sanctuary present the program, “Superb Scavengers.”

While gorgeous in flight, a Turkey vulture up close seems menacing. Its wrinkled and featherless red head is unsightly, but learners of all ages will discover that the ugly head is just one of countless adaptions that make vultures and other scavengers essential to the health of the environment.

Plants Out of Time and Place

During the “Restoration Fall Color Hike,” which is co-sponsored by the Door County Master Gardeners and Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula, we will be observing Crossroads’ efforts to improve the health of the environment; the topic of invasive species will undoubtedly rear its ugly head. 

We often explain to children that invasive species are just “plants out of place.” They are not inherently evil. When they grow in their native countries, they rarely are problematic. EXCEPT … (cue the spooky Halloween music.) 

According to an article called, “The Witches’ Brew From ‘Macbeth’ Is More Accessible Than You Think,” by Jessica Mason, the ingredients the weird sisters were dropping into their bubbling cauldron may be familiar.

Just as we have common names for flowers that grow here, the common folk of Elizabethan England had common names, many fanciful, for the plants that they grew or gathered for seasoning or medicine. Some of the plants on the three witches’ list grow right here in Door County. For example, the “eye of the newt” was the name given to Black Mustard—an invasive species here in the Midwest, and a truly egregious problem-plant in the West. 

“Tongue of dog” is a weed we call “Hound’s Tongue,” which is a toxic invasive species that can harm wild and domestic animals. This time of year, it also has nasty bur-like seeds that stick to unsuspecting hikers.

“Root of hemlock” is not part of a tree, but rather Water Hemlock, which grows in wetlands and is probably the most toxic plant in North America. And “Bloody finger” was a name for Foxglove (a.k.a. Digitalis). It is toxic enough to sometimes cause cardiac arrest. 

 The more I think about it, I realize that Shakespeare’s three witches knew what they were doing. Their herbal potion would have been lethal. Bubble bubble, toil and poison. 

Healing Our Soil

Thanks to science, there are ways to get rid of some poisons, and on November 1, at 7:00 p.m., Crossroads has scheduled an informational session on how we are dealing with the lead and arsenic – remnants of 20th century orchard management practices – in two areas on our preserve. Ken Ebbott, senior project manager and geologist with Sand County Environmental, will discuss the removal of contaminated soil. He will be joined by Crossroads board member and conservationist, Brian Forest, and former Door County Soil and Water Department head Bill Schuster.

As always, our trails are open all day every day, free of charge. Check the Crossroads website calendar for upcoming events and details.

An audience learns about Turkey vultures with the help of Open Door Bird Sanctuary and their vulture ambassador Amber.

Upcoming Activities

Saturday, October 28

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Science Saturdays: Clouds 

A Halloween-themed Science Saturday will explore clouds, their formation, and how they contribute to “dark and stormy nights.” This “Science is Fun” program is designed for elementary-aged students, but their families and interested adults are welcome. Activities offered in the lab, but weather permitting, we may venture outdoors, so dress for the weather. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay.


1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Master Gardeners & Wild Ones: Restoration Fall Color Hike

While enjoying the fall colors, participants will learn about the restoration efforts at Crossroads, both the planting of native and removal of non-native plants, and explore the Halloween weekend question: Are invasives evil? Meet at the Collins Learning Center, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay.


Tuesday, October 31

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Halloween program: “Superb Scavengers,” presented by the Open Door Bird Sanctuary

While it may look a little scary, a live Turkey vulture will be the featured guest at this Halloween program. Learn from representatives of Open Door Bird Sanctuary about this superb scavenger and other beneficial creatures. Feel free to come in costume. Free and open the public. Collins Learning Center, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay.


Wednesday, November 1

7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. An Informational Session on Lead and Arsenic Soil Remediation.

Join us for an informational session on how Crossroads is dealing with lead and arsenic-contaminated soil – remnants of 20th century orchard management practices – in two areas on its preserve. Ken Ebbott, senior project manager and geologist with Sand County Environmental, will discuss the removal of contaminated soil. He will be joined by Crossroads board member and geologist, Brian Forest, and former Door County Soil and Water Department head, Bill Schuster. Free and open to the public. Collins Learning Center, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay. 

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