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Street Cred: Door County’s National Scenic Byway designation for Highway 42

Local News

DOOR COUNTY, Wisc., (WFRV) – It’s the place that Native Americans once called death’s door because of all the shipwrecks.

Only part of the name stuck and the boating’s a lot safer these days.

Door County has weathered the uncertainty of the past year and offers a haven for those who are looking to recharge their batteries.

Highway 42 has a long-held reputation as a route with gorgeous views, but now it has national recognition as a scenic byway.

The Executive Director of Destination Door County says it’s been about a decade since they went after such a title and it’s a big deal.

“It brings attention to us nationally, explains Jon Jarosh. “Now we’re part of the National Scenic Byway Program. And for those who travel and prefer to visit national routes, obviously, they’ve got to have a certain level of scenery and different appeal to them, they’re gonna find us now. Because we’re going to show up on all these scenic byway lists which we’re very excited about.”

On the southernmost edge of Highway 42 just north of Sturgeon Bay you’ll see Grandma Tommy’s General Store. It’s operated by the son of the original Grandma Tommy across the street from her original roadside market in the 1940s.

“They call it Tommy’s because her name is really Tomjanovich and it was too hard to say and too long,” says descendant Amanda Laubenstein. “So they changed it to Tommy’s Market. Then ten years ago me and my family decided to do a market and we called it Grandma Tommy’s.”

For as inviting and friendly as Grandma Tommy’s looks, no word can describe just how good it smells.

“My mom is a grandma so technically we do have a grandma on the premises and she does make the pies,” added Laubenstein. “Just not the original grandma Tommy but there is a grandma.”

There are so many places from the wineries to the resorts and the quiet homesteads, it’s easy to understand why so many never get to the tip.

But if you do, you’ll see Charlie’s Smokehouse which has stood here since 1932 and remains all in the family.

Chris Voight has been helping his father since he was 11 years old.

“Well, it’s just an old process,” says Voight. “It adds great flavor to the fish and people love it!”

Repeat customer Gavin Brundy of Chicago agrees.

“It forks off so flaky I cannot find anything better,” Brundy told Local 5 News. “It’s the undefeated champion.”

So if you’ve made it up this far, which is about an hour’s drive, you might as well do the final and very curvy one and half miles to the very top of Door County.

Something the locals call the Jens Jensen Road after the famous Door County landscape artist.

“So when that final stretch of road the northernmost point of highway 42 was constructed,” begins Jarosh. “Legend has it that, instead of a straight line he said let’s let people enjoy nature, so he got them to make it nice and curvy.”

Of course, there are a couple of stories or legends about why the road is so curvy. Tourism officials aren’t too worried if you believe over the other or none of them, just as long as you come to Door County to see for yourself.

“It’s a very popular place all times of the year,” noted Jarosh. “Especially when those fall colors are at their peak. It’s absolutely gorgeous and a great spot for a photograph.”

Destination Door County says Illinoisans make up about a third of visitors to Door County each year. Wisconsinites make up half, with the remainder of visitors from elsewhere.

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