In Memoriam: Dr. G. Leonard Apfelbach

By Gene Kenny, NWS Office of the President:

The Newport Wilderness Society and the people of Wisconsin lost a good friend and benefactor last week with the passing of Dr. G. Leonard Apfelbach

While assembling the Annual Report of the Newport Wilderness Society this week, I received two email messages. These messages were very different, but actually were linked… 

The first was from an out-of-state woman who asked if the Newport Wilderness Society had an astronomy program scheduled for July 20 or 21st at Newport State Park. She had seen an article describing great places and dates for viewing the Milky Way. She had never seen the Milky Way. I had to tell her that all of our programs at the Newport State Park were on hold do to the Covid-19 pandemic. She understood and thanked me.

The second message was about the passing of Dr. G. Leonard “Len” Apfelbach on June 25th, 2020. Dr. Apfelbach was a Urologist for more than 30 years in Wisconsin. He was a husband and father. He was active in Rotary and active in the Newport Wilderness Society.

Restored Hotz Gate, August 2019; photo courtesy Gene Kenny

One of the friends group’s accomplishments last summer was the restoration of the Hotz gate. Through a mostly volunteer effort and an important anonymous donation to cover expenses, the Hotz gate was restored.

The gate is on Europe Bay Road and was the entrance to the Hotz family summer home from 1915 until 1978. Today it is the entrance to the Hotz trail which links to the Europe Bay trail. After completing the restoration, preparations were started for a dedication ceremony for the summer of 2020. Because of Covid-19, that celebration is now postponed.

Hotz Cottage on Europe Lake; 1925 photo by Ferdinand Hotz

Ferdinand Hotz built a summer home on land north of Europe Bay Road. It was 170 acres of land with more than 3 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan to the East and overlooking Europe Lake to the West. One of the most beautiful tracts of land in Door County, this property was eventually inherited by Dr. G. Leonard Apfelbach, who was Ferdinand Hotz’s grandson.

In 1978, Dr. Apfelbach sold this land to the Department of Natural Resources and to the people of Wisconsin. It now comprises the north end of Newport State Park. Because of that transfer, we have 7 additional miles of hiking, biking and ski trails and several wilderness campsites. Dr. Apfelbach stipulated that the land had to remain undeveloped. The DNR agreed.

This transfer to the DNR benefitted all of us. But more importantly, our country has a “dark sky” along Newport’s Lake Michigan shore. Newport is one of only three certified dark-sky parks east of the Mississippi River.

This is where these two messages converge. If Dr. G. Leonard Apfelbach hadn’t sold this land to the DNR in 1978, we might not have a dark sky to see the Milky Way. Thanks Len.

‘Len’ Apfelbach at Hotz Gate (2018); photo courtesy of Martha Apfelbach Witko
‘Len’ Apfelbach at Hotz Gate Arch (2018); photo courtesy of Martha Apfelbach Witko

Addendum: To learn more about the Hotz family history as it relates to Newport State Park, the booklet The Ferdinand Hotz Legacy is a good place to start. It was written by Dr. G. Leonard Apfelbach and published by the Newport Wilderness Society.

Top photo: Gate and Caretaker Cottage at the entrance to the Hotz property; unknown date. Photo possibly taken by Ferdinand Hotz.