Department of Tourism lauds business for being committed to conservation
From its perch atop Sweetcake Hill, the dominant color at the Port Washington Inn is usually blue — as in the robin’s egg color of the sky and the sapphire shimmer of nearby Lake Michigan.
But according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the vintage bed-and-breakfast inn is a green destination.
It has been named one of the Top 10 “Eco-Elegant” lodging options in the state.
According to the award organizers, the winning entries “wow with their eco-conscious vibe and luxury amenities.”
All of the honored properties voluntarily take part in the Travel Green Wisconsin certification program that awards points for water conservation, recycling, wildlife conservation and energy efficiency. Additional points are awarded for employee and guest education.
The judges were impressed by the Port Washngton Inn’s scenic setting and attention to guest comfort.
“This historic B&B makes good use of the natural air conditioning supplied by Lake Michigan, with guests enjoying views of the sunrise over the lake,” the judging summary stated.
“The owners here, Rita and Dave Nelson, are very committed to the ‘Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin’ philosophy, with local farmers markets their favorite haunts. The inn has new energy-efficient windows and the building has been newly insulated.”
The nomination form also noted that the Nelsons used walnut logs salvaged from farm fence lines in rural Iowa to make beautiful antique reproduction furniture found throughout the inn.
Made-from-scratch breakfast offerings entice guests. The owners even grind their own grain for wheat bread and culture their own yogurt.
Innkeeper Rita Nelson said her commitment to a sustainable lifestyle predated the couple’s time with the inn.
“Many of the measures and practices recognized by this award are extensions of the way we have always lived our lives. Who knew they would ever become politically correct?” Nelson said.
The building was erected as a single-family home in 1903. It was converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn and later acquired by the Nelsons in 1996.
Four guest rooms were updated on the second floor when the Nelsons became innkeepers, and a spacious suite was created on the third floor.
Although the house is more than a century old, each guest room has plenty of modern amenities, including private baths, queen-sized beds, TVs and CD players discretely hidden within custom furniture, and even Wi-Fi.
Hot-water heat is utilized via a radiator system, and dual Unicore air-handling systems were added to cool the building when there are no fresh breezes off the lake.
Nelson said the home was built with lots of windows, which prove to be a blessing and a curse for the inn.
“The light and the views must have been very important to the builders of this house, because they spared no expense on the windows,” she said.
“Yes, we get lots of solar energy benefit on a sunny day in cold weather, but when it’s a sunny day in hot weather, we need protection. That is why each window has two or three window-covering options which allow guests to determine how much light they want coming into the room.”
Nelson said she is conscientious about the amount of waste the inn creates, and participates in recycling programs whenever possible.
That stewardship of natural resources seems to be in keeping that the historic setting of the inn.
“I suppose we may be accused of being as old-fashioned as the building we are in,” Nelson said.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn back the clock to that era and make some different decisions relative to our natural resources? We can’t, of course,
but we must move from ignorance to enlightenment, from wastefulness to stewardship, from ‘no problem’ to taking charge. Taking charge can be a lot of fun.”
Nelson said she and her husband are honored to be included on the “eco-elegant” list.
State officials said the honor reminds people they can enjoy traveling in style while encouraging businesses that are environmentally aware.
“Wisconsin has a long legacy of land stewardship programs like Travel Green Wisconsin,” Tourism Secretary Kellie Trumble said in announcing the awards.
“The state’s B&Bs were among the first to sign up for certification, which immediately helped jump start the program. For the most part, these are small, independently owned B&Bs where the owners live on-property and make it their mission to act on their convictions.”
Also making the state’s Top 10 Eco-Elegant list were Pinehurst Inn and the Rittenhouse Inn, both in Bayfield; Journey Inn in Maiden Rock; Blacksmith Inn in Door County; Arbor House and the Speckled Hen Inn, both in Madison; Brambleberry B&B in Taylor; Stewart Inn in Wausau; and Justin Trails in Sparta.
THE PORT WASHINGTON INN has been named a top “green” destination by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Below, innkeeper Rita Nelson relaxed with a book in the elegant shared parlor. Photos by Mark Jaeger