At the "Top of the Thumb" in Door County
At the very tip of the Door County peninsula lies Gills Rock, where a strong tradition of commercial fishing continues today. This area is also very popular with scuba divers who explore the many shipwrecks in and around Death's Door. The Door County maritime museum houses many artifacts from these wrecks and chronicles the fishing industry. Ferries to Washington Island depart regularly from Gills Rock and nearby Northport Pier.
Nearby Newport State Park is a 2,373 acre wilderness area offering 38.3 miles of hiking trails, swimming, fishing, backpack camping, ski touring and snowshoeing along eleven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline . Newport, northeast of Ellison Bay, is Wisconsin’s only formally designated wilderness park. There are evergreen and hardwood forests, wetlands, and upland meadows. The park has an interpretive center and naturalist program. Of these trails, 16.8 miles also are open to off-road bicycles. In the winter, 26.3 miles of trails are available for cross-country skiing, including 12.5 miles groomed and tracked for classical skiing, 2 miles groomed for skate skiing, and 4.5 miles open for snowshoeing. Newport has 16 backpack campsites, 13 of which can be reserved. The park also offers winter backpack camping.
When visiting Gills Rock, be sure to visit the Door County Maritime Museum. The newly remodeled facility features the fishing tug Hope built in 1930 by Sturgeon Bay Boat Works. Visitors can board the boat and view its last fishing trip in 1992. There are also new exhibits on shipwrecks and lifesaving including a lyle gun used to rescue mariners from shipwrecks. The Ted Berch model collection of 20 Great Lakes vessels including the Edmund Fitzgerald is also located in the lifesaving area. It also houses an area devoted to marine engines including those built at Kahlenberg Brothers of Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Gills Rock was originally known as "Hedgehog Harbor," the name given it by Washington Island fisherman and boat builder Amos Lovejoy. In 1855, Lovejoy decided to winter his sloop on the shores of a cove he liked to fish. Over that winter, a family of hedgehogs, also known as porcupines, moved on board. When Lovejoy launched his sloop again in spring, he didn't notice the numerous holes the hedgehogs had chewed in the hull. The boat began taking on water through those holes and Lovejoy was forced to abandon the sloop and come ashore. The cove was renamed Gills Rock in 1870 in honor of Elias Gill, a prominent lumberer. Gills Rock remains a popular photo opportunity for visitors who can’t resist the fish houses and commercial fishing tugs that line the waterfront.
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