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Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center – USA

Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center

Built in 2015, the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center is located on State Hwy 57 in Baileys Harbor, WI. The Nature Center provides a visible public entrance to the Sanctuary.

Name of organisation: The Ridges Sanctuary, Inc.

Funding support: Private not-for-profit

Number of staff: 10

Number of visitors per year:28,000

Overall aims of the centre

The mission of The Ridges is to protect the Sanctuary and inspire stewardship of natural areas through programs of education, outreach and research. We believe we will be the center for Environmental Stewardship. Every day, the staff, members, volunteers and visitors ensure the mission is incorporated in all we do.

Description of the centre

Built in 2015, the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center is located on State Hwy 57 in Baileys Harbor, WI. The Nature Center provides a visible public entrance to the Sanctuary. It features a full exhibit, focusing on the cultural and natural history of The Ridges and is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design ) certified commercial building in Door County. It received its LEED Gold certification in 2017.

The building also hosts various workshops, education classes, and user groups. Most importantly, as our founders envisioned, it is the place for people of all ages – volunteers, members, residents, businesses, visitors and community leaders alike – to gather in support of land protection, education, outreach and research.

Since the completion of the new nature center, visitorship has increased 400% when compared to pre-2015 numbers.

Main CEPA work areas

The Ridges is committed to providing education programs for both children and adults. Our goal is to increase the appreciation for our rich natural landscape and to foster connections with the natural world. We offer guided hikes, week-long children’s summer camps, workshops, guest lectures, and various expert-led educational programming. Additionally, we have partnered with a local preschool and currently welcome 16 four-year-olds once a week for hands-on environmental education programming.

Top three successes

Engaging volunteers – we have a large and active volunteer base. Volunteers are drawn to The Ridges because of the unique, challenging and fullfilling projects that are available. We empower volunteers by giving them freedom to complete tasks and by allowing them to learn new skill sets.

Practicing and promoting environmental stewardship – The Ridges was founded in 1937 to preserve a 30 acre parcel. Today, The Ridges protects over 1,600 acres of some of the most sensative and rare habitat in the Great Lakes region. To protect this habitat and the unique plants and animals that live on it we must consider the impacts of every decision we make.

Educating our visitors – In an effort to help our visitors better understand our property and the world around them, we take every opportunity we can to educate. People come to The Ridges not just to experience nature but also to learn. It begins with the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center, where visitors can view exhibits, buy educational materials, sit in on guest lectures, sign up for a guided hike or other educational programs, and interact with knowledgable staff and volunteers.  

Top three challenges

Adjusting to rapid expansion – After the completion of our new nature center in 2015, visitorship has increased dramatically. While this is a great problem for a nature center to have, ajdusting to the new challenges that accompany it is always a moving target. Having insight into these challenges can be invaluable to an organization that is attempting to increase their visitor numbers.

Weekend adult education programming – While we try to anticpate availability for our visitors we have come to find out that our weekend programming is not as heavily utilized as our programs that occur during the week. This has reinforced our desire to more effectively survey our visitors which is a process that we are still working through. Learning as much about one’s visitors is a practice that can be utilized by any nature center.

Sending the right message – It is our responsibility as an environmentally-focused nature center to “practice what we preach” in every aspect of our daily operations. We are always attempting to identify areas where we can improve but, inevitably, there is always something that falls through the cracks. Learning how to send a clear and consistent message that corresponds with the mission of the organization is critical but challenging. Our process of self-analysis has been ongiong for the past 80 years and many could benefit from what we have learned along the way.

Interpretation techniques

Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails

Visitor centres

Setting up a new visitor centre; Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre; Building / maintaining structures


Working with disabled people; Engaging hard-to-reach groups; Engaging young people; Engaging the local community;

Working with volunteers

Education and communication

Early years education; Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Working with secondary schools; Developing resources / materials


Auditing / assessing effectiveness; PR and marketing; Running effective administration; Health and safety; Fund-raising; Project planning. 

Matt Peter, Land Manager

PO Box 152

Baileys Harbor, WI 54202


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