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Looking Ahead: Ringing in the New Year

This weekend, Crossroads will ring in the New Year! Appropriate to the celebration, our Saturday Science Program will feature “Annual Rings,” and at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, we host the Wild Ones/Master Gardener Last Sunset of 2023 Hike, which will start from the Collins Learning Center.

Several years ago, when a school field trip program featured the annual rings of trees, one of the fifth-grade students wanted to know whether it was on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day that the trees added their annual rings.

Actually, making that dark ring takes several months.

Making New Rings

A tree will increase in circumference each year. Come to think of it, this holiday time of year, some humans increase in circumference, too. But in nature, the opposite is true. While we humans tend to put on girth in winter, trees grow very little, if at all, this time of year.

Trees do most of their growing during the summer season, when the weather is warm and nourishment is available. During the growing season, trees develop new wood. Large light-colored cells are formed during late spring and summer, especially during years of abundant rain.

As summer turns into autumn, production of new wood slows considerably. The cells produced in the dry season (and into winter) are quite small. The smaller cells appear to the naked eye like a narrow dark band or ring.

The so-called annual ring of a tree trunk is actually a layer of small cells. In most years, seasons alternate between warm and cold. Consequently, a light-colored ring and a slim dark ring are formed annually. The number of dark rings indicates the age of a tree, or more accurately, the number of winters survived.

There is a field of botany called dendrology. Scientists can not only determine the ages of trees; they can also learn about short and long-term climate changes based on the spaces between the dark rings. In drought years, for example, the rings of trees are very close together. When growing conditions were good, the spaces between the dark rings are significantly wider, indicating that the tree was thriving.

What if Crossroads at Big Creek had annual rings? 2023 would definitely have a wide growth ring.

The Rings of Crossroads

It’s fun to imagine scientists, years and years from now, looking at tree rings and realizing that literally thousands of trees have been planted in the past few years as a part of our restoration efforts.

Many of those trees, shrubs and wildflowers were planted by our volunteers, to whom we give the appropriate names of Habitat Healers and Pollinator Pals. But many trees were planted by school groups, Boys and Girls Club groups, and YMCA Summer Camp participants, as a part of our efforts to “get kids outdoors.”

And those kids love our bridges! In 2023, we installed our third and final pedestrian bridge. The bridge is beautiful, and it also protects the wetlands and flood plains of Big Creek.

If you haven’t crossed our new bridges, you can see images on our new website, also launched in 2023, under the Explore tab. Be sure to check out the Activities Calendar, because we’ve planned a variety of events for learners of all ages in the coming months. The website is also the place to go to find out when our Ski-for Free program will be open and to learn of current hiking or skiing trail conditions.

During the summer, we again hosted researchers from the Environmental Research and Innovation Center of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and several community science projects got underway.

On Utah Street, we began work converting the historic barn at the Hanson Homestead into a research field station and classroom, and during both our Spring and Fall Archaeological Digs, we opened the 1852 Hans and Bertha Hanson House for tours.

Other 2023 initiatives included a soil restoration project in which we removed contaminated soil from two former orchard chemical mixing site locations. And last summer, we began developing a Management Plan for our beautiful Ida Bay Preserve.

Traditional programs continued in 2023, as well. A highlight was hosting an Earth Day Festival in April that included a premiere showing of Peninsula Filmworks’ new “Ridges and Swales” documentary.

In May, it indeed seemed like every day was Earth Day as students from area schools participated in activities designed to inspire environmental stewardship. And in June, the Crossroads Trail Run was a glorious success.

This was a very good growth year for Crossroads. To grow, not unlike a tree which needs moisture and nutrients and warmth, Crossroads grew thanks to donor support and with the efforts of our board, staff and volunteers. And the warmth? That is the joy we feel when we see Door County residents and visitors enjoying our three beautiful preserves. 

Happy New Year, and remember, in 2024, our preserves will be open 366 days, free of charge. Check the Crossroads website calendar for upcoming events and details.


Upcoming Activities

Thursday, December 28

2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Winter Waterfest

Even if the weather outside is frightful, there are countless water-related demonstrations we can and will do inside. We’ll have activities for all ages, but the lessons and demonstrations will be geared toward elementary students – who will get wet! Open to all ages. No reservation necessary. Meet in the lab of the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Friday, December 29

1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Crossroads Board Game Bash

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a warm fire in the fireplace, warm hot chocolate or apple cider, and a good board game to play with family or friends. We’ll have tables set up with a variety of board games, including Wingspan, Science Trivia, and more. Feel free to bring your own games to play as well! Open to all ages. No reservation necessary. Meet in the lab of the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Saturday, December 30

1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Fireside at Crossroads

Throughout December, folks are invited to get cozy at Crossroads on Saturday afternoons during our open hours. Whether you want to warm up after a hike or just stop by for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, you can enjoy some fresh popped popcorn, and relax around the Fireplace. Board Games will be available. Free and open to the public.


2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Science Saturdays: Annual Rings

Unless the weather outside is frightful, this week’s Saturday Science program will be a naturalist-led hike to visit several of Crossroads’ evergreen forests. Learn how these trees have adapted to survive a Wisconsin winter. We will meet indoors, if necessary. No reservations required. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Sunday, December 31

4:15 – 5:30 p.m. Wild Ones – Last Sunset Hike of 2023

Join the Wild Ones – Door Peninsula Chapter as they lead a short hike to watch the last sunset of 2023 on the Crossroads trails. Reflect on the past year and start welcoming in the new year. While this hike is not difficult, please dress for the weather. Meet outside the Collins Learning Center.

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