The age-old argument of what makes one a Door County local remains alive and well in our current culture. Though I’m sure being a local once meant that you were born here, I would argue that now being born here makes you more native than local. I was not born here, and short of building a time machine to change that fateful day that I was born in Illinois (don’t say it), I will never be indigenous to Door County. But I am a local, and I’ll tell you why – just not yet.
Other theories about local-ness include growing up in Door County, working in Door County, living year-round in Door County, or having a local family member. Some folks believe that owning property and/or paying taxes in Door County can also make you a local.
Up until a few years ago, I was pretty sure I was a local because my mom lived here (even though I did not); because I had finally committed to memory a basic map of where the villages lie on the peninsula; because I no longer forgot to switch off my turn signal after forking onto 57 North towards Institute; and because I had learned to say both “Valmy” and “Ephraim” correctly. I was wrong. Though these things certainly helped me get along in Door County – especially having a relative to live with post-college and pre-workforce – these things no more made me a local than wearing ruby slippers made me Dorothy.
Still – there’s no place like home. And if what you call home doesn’t call you local, where do you stand? Over the last three plus years that I have lived in Door County (yes, year-round), worked in Door County, and paid my taxes in Door County, I have heard many terms for those of us who are here but not local. Rounders – those who stay in the county year-round. Transplants – those who’ve come to stay for good. Now, let me beef for a moment here, because I’d like to note the fact that there are some locals – who pride themselves on being called locals – who don’t even stay in the county for the winter. Not that I’m bitter, or that I blame them; I chose to be here year round, even in February and March (when it's especially hard not to be bitter – or at least bitterly cold!)
All that said, remember that I told you I was a local. Now, I am a self-proclaimed local, and my street-cred may not carry with everyone in Door County, also note that being an Islander (from Washington Island), is not the same as being a Door County local – that’s a different beast entirely... I believe that being a Door County local is not so much about where you came from, as it is about what you bring to the county. Being a local means you care about Door County, Door County feeds you – metaphorically and/or literally, and you find a way to give back to this place and to these people. I won’t tell you what you have to give, we're all different after all. I think everyone who calls themselves a Door County local knows what they have to offer, and what matters to our communities, and we each give what we know how to.
Perhaps I’ve overstepped my bounds by declaring local-ness for myself, but I can’t rely on those lucky enough to have been born here to confirm or deny my right to call this place home. This place, these people, have made me what and who I am; they help to define how I will live my life. I may not be from Door County, but I am of Door County.