Latest Entries

New at Gathering Waters

We are happy to welcome two new additions to the team here at Gathering Waters: Becky Andresen, our part-time Program Assistant and Rhea Bradley, our Outreach & Development Intern.

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Becky Andresen, Program Assistant

As our Program Assistant, Becky will be keeping the office organized and making sure everything is running smoothly while ensuring staff have what they need to thrive. She will also play a vital role with supporting our fundraising and membership program. In addition to working for Gathering Waters, Becky has another part time job with Public Health-Madison & Dane County as a Laboratory Assistant where she tests water samples.

Rhea Bradley, Outreach & Development Intern

Rhea Bradley, Outreach & Development Intern

As our Outreach & Development Intern, Rhea will offer some fresh ideas and support of our outreach efforts, fundraising and special events.  She is currently a student at Edgewood College majoring in Business Management and minoring in Environmental Studies.  She has a strong interest in sustainable business and hopes her internship at Gathering Waters will expand her awareness of the value of land conservation while developing professional skills.

Find out more about these two or the rest of the Gathering Waters’ team on our website.

Welcome Becky and Rhea! 

Nature’s Beauty and Capacity to Heal

As a young boy scout, Doug Jones learned that “you leave your spot better than you found it.” To this day he and his wife Sherryl adhere to this adage. In December 2014 Doug and Sherryl permanently protected a part of their land with Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC).

This restored prairie, situated next to a secluded lake along the Wisconsin River, is helping protect an array of beautiful and brilliantly colored rare fish that call the lake home. According to Dave Marshall, retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist and current Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) researcher and board member, these rare fish are “much like the proverbial canaries in the coal mines. They reflect the health of these lakes, which are crucial to the health of the river.”

the Jones

Sherryl & Doug Jones

The prairie restoration, planted and maintained by Doug and Sherryl, filters nutrients from groundwater before it reaches the lake. In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms that threatened the future of the rare fish that live only in lakes like these. Since Doug and Sherryl planted the prairie on their property, FLOW has measured – through groundwater and surface water samples – a steady decline in nutrients in the lake next to the Jones’ prairie.

In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms

In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms.

According to Sherryl, “we planted the prairie because we simply thought it was beautiful, but it’s incredibly rewarding to know that we’re also improving water quality and protecting these special animals.” This unique project serves as a model for protecting waterways throughout the Driftless Area. It was made possible through a partnership between DALC, FLOW and the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA).  MEA and FLOW provided funding to DALC to protect lands along the Lower Wisconsin River, with a focus on improving water quality.

New Beginnings

As we ring in a new year, many of us stop to reflect on the past year and our hopes for the future. We think about why we do what we do and the value we bring to and derive from it.

Harkening back to the October 2014 Land Trust Retreat here is a list of words that participants offered in response to the question, What is a word that describes what you see, hear, or feel in a place you help conserve?

untamed quiet serene
tranquil peaceful relaxing
removed crunchy squishy
salty verdant fresh
refreshing magic rippling waters water shimmering
raindrops breathtaking soothing
removed home fortunate
timeless wildness unspoiled
magic bird sounds beep-beep
alive rustic primordial
promise opportunity whisper
unspoiled awe inspiring glorious
reverent haunted humble
proud mortal soulfulness


These words inspired creativity in the Retreat Haiku Contest. They also highlight what is so special about the work that land trusts do.

All of us at Gathering Waters wish you ample measures of opportunity and magic, with moments of peacefulness and relaxation, as you enter this fresh, new year!



Ideas from Wisconsin’s 2014 Land Trust Retreat

The Land Trust Retreat in October was dubbed both “Land Trust 101” and “Executive Director Therapy” by participants, indicating the range of benefits it offered for brand new board members and seasoned leaders and staff alike.

More than anything else participants in this year’s retreat valued the opportunity to network. The strength of the land trust community truly lies in identifying issues and tackling them together.

One retreat session in particular gave participants space to reflect together on the “big picture.” The room was abuzz as each small group moved through a series of questions, rotating from station to station to add to and comment on the ideas of previous groups.LT retreat 2014 (301)

Here are some of the themes that emerged.

Land trust folks know that conserving land over time is an awesome responsibility. These are some of the questions that keep them up at night.

  • What data could we collect on easements that would be helpful for science and management far into the future?
  • What more can we do to ensure resource quality and availability for future generations?
  • How can we weather changes in government programs and resources to manage natural resources?
  • How can we demonstrate conservation’s relevance to more people and make the connection with global and local issues like climate change, poverty, disease?

These are ideas and directions land trusts are interested in exploring.

  • Creative fundraising approaches, like mobile payments, electronic currency, crowdfunding
  • Financing with a Chip Fee or transfer fee for conservation
  • Web-based tools for monitoring and stewardship by staff and citizen scientists
  • Electronic record keeping, with proper standard/filing format
  • Remote-control drones–new ways to access property as well as potential for confrontational issues
  • Pathways to engage the wider community through social media, mobile technology, and virtual tours
  • Becoming more targeted in land owner contacts (work with UWSP on this)
  • Developing a “watershed” message, making riparian buffer zones a “commodity”
  • Treat dairy manure properly in watershed by trails, like industrial waste

Participants also listed ideas for working together to increase their effectiveness and efficiency.

  • Share tools & resources: hardware tools, work crews, monitoring
  • Joint workshops
  • Share donor lists, recognize that overlap occurs
  • Peer support and accountability for meeting standards, whether accredited or not
  • Help/contract for technical support, GIS
  • Cooperate on grant writing/applications
  • Baselines preparation/GIS job sharing
  • Board member shadowing
  • Shared professional support/mentorship
  • Trade off facilitation of meetings
  • Convene board meetings on the same date to share guest speaker
  • Pass CE’s to neighbor, “save” $50,000
  • Serve as back-up holders
  • Mergers
  • Develop expert/skill directory on-line
  • Shared PR, “brought to you by Wisconsin’s Land Trusts”

This is a conversation that will be ongoing. At Gathering Waters we welcome your continued reflections and suggestions on how we can work together to make land trusts stronger. Contact Meg Domroese, Land Trust Program Director (meg at gatheringwaters dot org), or reach out to one of the members of Wisconsin’s Land Trust Council. Council members keep their fingers on the pulse of land trusts and help us to set priorities strategically.

With our Land Trust Alliance partners we will take these ideas up in Ask-an-Expert calls, peer mentoring activities, and other training opportunities, including at future retreats.


Changes afoot at Gathering Waters: New staff and a fond farewell

The new year will bring some changes to the faces of Gathering Waters. Read on for an update on GW staffing in 2015:

Sara DeKok, our long-time Associate Director and Member Relations Director will be moving on in January 2015 when she welcomes her second child and puts down roots in the Twin Cities.  She has been a great friend and inspiring leader to all of us here at Gathering Waters and after 12 years with the organization, she will certainly be missed.

We wish her and her family the very best and are happy, knowing she will find a great opportunity in Minnesota to continue her incredible contribution to the conservation movement.

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We wish Sara DeKok a fond farewell.

Kristin Swedlund, whom we welcomed as our new Program Assistant in August, will take on a new role as Gathering Waters’ Development Coordinator upon Sara’s departure.  She has wealth of fundraising experience and is already proving to be a great asset to the land trust community.

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Kristin Swedlund has a wealth of fundraising experience and is a great asset.

And finally, we are eager to welcome a new Program Assistant in early January.  Interviews are currently taking place, so stay tuned for a new face at the office door and voice on the phone!

Land Trust Partners with City to Protect Water

Tall Pines Conservancy has partnered with the City of Oconomowoc on an innovative and exciting program (The Adaptive Management Program) to improve the water quality in their area. Together, they are reducing water pollution from urban and agricultural sources and enabling the City to reach compliance with the Department of Natural Resources waste-water and storm water permit requirements in a cost-effective manner.

Siltation after heavy rains in Mason Creek flowing into North Lake

Tall Pines Conservancy has partnered with the City of Oconomowoc to improve and maintain water quality.

The Adaptive Management Program aims to prevent pollutants from getting into the waterways through improved conservation practices including better leaf collection practices, rain gardens, porous pavement, retention ponds, residential fertilizer control, implementation of an aggressive street cleaning program, better storm water management practices and much more.

Lac La Belle at Dusk

Safer, healthier, more beautiful places to live, work and play.

All of this will mean improved water quality in the Oconomowoc River and Rock River area streams and lakes. It will mean enhanced aquatic and wildlife habitat, reduced aquatic weed growth and algal blooms in area lakes and waterways. This means safer, healthier, more beautiful places to live, work and play.

Pretty cool, right? We think so.

Want to know more about this project? Check out Tall Pines Conservancy’s Fall/Winter 2014 newsletter.

20 Years is a Name Changer

Wisconsin’s landscapes – miles of beach, soaring bluffs, acres of ancient forest – were shaped by the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, the mighty Mississippi and the last great glacial retreat. In short, Wisconsin is defined by water. And, “gathering of the waters” is an interpretation of Wisconsin’s meaning. So in 1994, when it came time to choose a name for a new organization that would work to protect land statewide, our founders sought to poetically reference the special place in which we would work. And so, Gathering Waters Conservancy was born.


Gathering Waters founders celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2009 (left to right): Bud Jordahl, Rob Chambers, Jean Meanwell, Bill O’ Connor, and Geoff Maclay

As our 20-year-milestone approached, we took a critical look at the way this organization has evolved for and with Wisconsin’s land trusts. While Gathering Waters has entered the vocabulary of many conservationists across Wisconsin and even the country, “Conservancy” was a misnomer, since we do not directly protect land. And, while poetic, Gathering Waters alone left room for confusion over our role.


So today, we announce a small change with major significance. Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts, exists to help land trusts, land owners and communities protect the places that make Wisconsin special.

The new name doesn’t change anything that we do, but we hope it better captures who we are and opens the door to more connection to the people who care about the places that make Wisconsin special.

We hope you like it as much as we do!

Lucky Stoughton

Dane County and the City of Stoughton now have a new, special place to make their own. As future development continues around this newly protected place, these 40-acres of untouched land will remain a true sanctuary and source of outdoor adventure for community members.

That’s right, Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT) recently purchased 40-acres of land that boasts over a mile of frontage on the Yahara River and is a popular stopover for migrating waterfowl (click for a map). NHLT is donating the land to the City of Stoughton to be enjoyed as a conservancy park where the public will have permanent access to the river. The city’s plans for the property include an extension of the bike trail that starts in the heart of the city and presently ends in Viking County Park, just south of the acquired property.

Yahara Waterway

Yahara Waterway by Mario Quintana

This community asset was made possible through funding provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation Fund, and Natural Heritage Land Trust members. The previous landowner’s willingness to sell the land to Natural Heritage Land Trust for less than its fair market value played an equally vital role.

Enjoy, Stoughton!

2014 Land Trust of the Year: The Conservation Fund

The Conservation Fund is a national land trust that has had a significant impact in Wisconsin. Known for its collaborative approach, the Fund’s conservation efforts serve to enhance and protect air and water quality, wildlife habitat and public recreation areas that preserve connections to our natural, cultural and historical heritage—all while creating opportunities to enhance economic opportunities for nearby communities and sustain local jobs in the forestry industry.

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The beautiful Brule St.-Croix Legacy Forest will benefit the region in many ways, forever. Photo courtesy of The Conservation Fund.

Since the Fund opened its Upper Midwest office in 2005, it has nurtured partnerships for the protection of large-scale forest and watershed conservation. Notably, the Fund played an integral role in the permanent protection of the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest, which represents the largest conservation project in Wisconsin’s state history. Each year, the Legacy Forest provides more than 1000 Wisconsin jobs and brings in $34.1 million through employment, timber sales and taxes. The Legacy Forest also provides habitat for several threatened and endangered species, plays a critical role in protecting the region’s water supply, and is open to the public for hiking, fishing, trapping, cross-country skiing, hunting, and bird watching.

Without the collaborative efforts led by the Fund, vast tracks of land like this one would be at risk for development, forever changing our Northwoods landscape and quality of life. Nearly 76,000 acres have been protected in Wisconsin as part of the Fund’s Upper Midwest initiative. This work, accomplished in less than 10 years, is absolutely phenomenal.

The Conservation Fund will be recognized for the tremendous impact they are having in Wisconsin, as the Land Trust of the Year at Gathering Waters’ 12th annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration on September 25th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website!

Margaret Burlingham, recipient of the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation

Margaret Burlingham is a hard working volunteer advocate for farmland preservation in Jefferson County, where development pressure on farms and farmland has been heavy. Her work as chair of the Jefferson County Farmland Easement Commission has led to many successes in the areas of farmland preservation planning, easements, advocacy, outreach, and education, as well as the protection of more than 600 acres of farmland.

Margaret also demonstrated great leadership in the American Farmland Trust’s Friends of Farmland Protection group. She actively worked to preserve the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements program by organizing support, testifying at legislative hearings and providing valuable insights. Additionally, she has and currently does serve on a number of other committees, teams and/or boards. She also provides park planning & design, land use planning, and rain garden design & installation services to public sector clients through her consulting firm, LanDesign.


Margaret Burlingham’s leadership and dedication has helped lead to many successes in the areas of farmland preservation planning, easements, advocacy, outreach, and education, as well as the protection of more than 600 acres of farmland.

Her personal commitment to farmland preservation is further reflected in the 95-acre easement she and her husband, Tom, donated in 2008. They operate Langmanor Farm, where they grow 500 acres of hay, corn, soybeans, wheat, and custom bale hay.

“Margaret is a true professional in all her efforts. She is able to interact and work with local, county and state officials. Her insights and dedication have been invaluable to the Friends of Farmland Protection group. When there’s a need to get something done, we turn to Margaret Burlingham.” (Bill Berry, American Farmland Trust)

Gathering Waters is happy to award the 2014 Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation to Margaret- she clearly deserves it! Join us to honor her work, at the Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration on September 25th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website!

Gathering Waters Conservancy • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 •