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Alma Bluffland Protected through Conservation Agreement with Sale of Property


Conservation Agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy Connects Buyer and Seller Visions of Future for the Land

The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

BUFFALO COUNTY, WI – February 23, 2018 – In conjunction with a change of ownership, the bluffland above the town of Alma has been added to the list of properties now protected by an agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy. When Larry Jost decided to sell the bluffland property he had climbed and enjoyed in his youth, he wanted to pass it on with the knowledge that the historic, geographic, and ecological value of the land would remain unchanged. When Alma’s Mayor, Jim Wilkie, learned of Jost’s interest in selling the landmark bluff, he had the future of Alma in mind. The visions and values of both parties are now connected through their agreement with the Conservancy.

Jost and a childhood friend, both born and raised in Alma, had for years enjoyed the land for recreation and hunting. Later in life they partnered on some property investments which included the landmark bluff above the town. When the time came to divest of the land, due to his partner’s failing health, Jost looked into the possibility of a conservation agreement to protect the land. “I was told by an excavating contractor that a road could be built to the top and then a house could have been built,” said Jost, “I didn’t want that to happen, I wanted to permanently protect the property.” Neither he or his friend could stand the idea of development on the bluffland. So Jost went in search of a buyer who would value the conservation plan. Among the many people with whom he discussed the property sale was Mayor Jim Wilkie.

Wilkie has his own vision for the land which is adjacent to his property and towers above his great-great grandfather’s brick home where he now lives. Being fully aware of the historic significance of the property as well as its value in Alma’s tourism economy and the town’s very identity, he wasn’t interested in seeing it changed. Looking ahead, he’s interested in the success of the “Flyway Trail” project that will one day connect Wabasha with Winona via a bike trail on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. To that end, he serves on the board of the Buffalo County Land and Trails Trust. He sees Alma and its bluffs as a jewel on that trail, and on the Wisconsin Great River Road, and that’s something he doesn’t want to see changed. So when Larry Jost told him about his plan to put a conservation easement on the land, the idea was agreeable to Jim Wilke, and he decided to purchase the land for its value to the community.

The property consists of 15 acres of scenic cliffs and blufflands overlooking the Mississippi River valley. The adventurous who climb to the top will find three limestone points looking out over the Mississippi River. The largest of the points includes a historical feature known locally as “Lincoln’s Cave,” due to a carving of the profile of Abraham Lincoln’s face. A crawl through the short tunnel puts one on top of a steep cliff with expansive views of the Mississippi River and the Minnesota blufflands. Visitors to Alma, boaters on the Mississippi River, and those driving along the Great River Road (Highway 35) or County Road E can enjoy the exceptionally scenic rock cliffs and wooded bluff that are now protected.

According to Larry, the site is of important historical significance. When steam ships came out of Lake Pepin, at the mouth of the Chippewa River, they could see “12-mile bluff” (Alma is twelve miles south of the Chippewa River). The name was changed to Alma in the mid-1850’s.

The property plays an equally significant ecological role, according to Abbie Church, conservation director of the Conservancy. The property’s ecological features include oak opening, defined by the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory as a globally imperiled natural community. Oak openings, often surrounded by prairie habitat as can be found on this property, serve as crucial habitat for declining pollinators and grassland-nesting bird species. Signs of foraging pileated woodpeckers can be found in standing dead trees, and soaring bald eagles and red-tailed hawks can often be seen above the bluffs.

“This transaction is a great example of how a conservation easement can serve as a legal tool to allow a landowner to sell land while having a say in the future use of that land,” said Church, “In this case, Larry had a vested interest in seeing that the land not be developed, the woods clear-cut, or the historical features of the Lincoln’s cave destroyed by a future owner. He found the perfect buyer in Jim, who shares his values in recognizing that Wisconsin’s scenic bluffs are a tremendous asset to the local community and to the wildlife that call this area home.”

According to Carol Abrahamzon, executive director of the Conservancy, the wishes of both buyer and seller were entirely compatible and the Conservancy was able to negotiate a conservation agreement customized to what the land itself can support and customized to the wishes of both parties. “Our role now is to ensure that the land protection provisions in the agreement are upheld in perpetuity – not just by the next owner but by owners far into the future,” she said, “With his purchase of the land, Jim Wilkie is carrying on what Larry Jost started – protecting the scenic beauty of the blufflands that can be seen and enjoyed by all traveling the Great River Road through the City of Alma now and forever.”



Founded in 1997, Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a nationally accredited regional land trust that has permanently protected nearly 20,000 acres of scenic lands in southwestern Wisconsin by working with private landowners, businesses and local communities on voluntary conservation projects. The focus of the Conservancy is to conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams and farms that enrich our communities, for the health and well-being of current and future generations. Learn more at


Federal Policy Update

President’s Budget proposal would virtually eliminate critical federal conservation programs. Please contact Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to voice your concern!

Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
  • The Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget proposal would eviscerate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), with a 98% overall cut to the program from this year’s enacted level. The proposal would eliminate state grant programs that support land trust projects, local recreation facilities, state parks, working forests, wildlife habitat and other community conservation priorities, leaving states and local communities in the lurch as they pursue an improved quality of life for their citizens.
  • Individual federal agency budget allocations for LWCF funding at our National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and other public lands would be eliminated outright or held so low as to cripple agency efforts, foreclosing any future protection of America’s lands and waters and undercutting efforts to enhance public access to the outdoors for hunting, fishing and a host of other activities that drive a vibrant economy. Popular projects in Wisconsin like the Ice Age Trail which utilize LWCF funds to enhance and develop recreational infrastructure would be set back dramatically.
  • The consequences of gutting one of America’s most important conservation and recreation program to this extent would be far-reaching for land conservation efforts and once-in- a- generation opportunities to secure public access and protect our public lands from private development inside their boundaries would be lost forever.
  • Diversions of LWCF funds in recent years away from conservation and recreation projects has left a backlog of need at the local, state and federal levels.  The Trump budget will exacerbate that beyond all hope.
  • Bipartisan support for LWCF in Congress has been strong and consistent for over half a century.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and related program cuts
  • The President’s budget also proposes cutting important regional programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which would face a 90 percent reduction from fiscal year 2017 budget levels. GLRI has a proven track record and helps local communities and fish and wildlife habitat clean up toxic pollution, curb polluted runoff, fight invasive species—a cut of 90 percent would severely undermine future success of the program.
  • A reduction of 34 percent from the 2017 budget levels for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which helps administer Great Lakes restoration and clean water protection programs.
  • A zeroed out budget for Clean Water Act Section 319 programs, which helps communities reduce polluted runoff that leads to toxic algal outbreaks—a reduction of $167 million from the fiscal year 2017 budget levels.

Forest Habitat Restored and Protected on Bluff Land Above Kickapoo River

The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

VERNON COUNTY, WI – February 13, 2018 – Forty acres of wildlife-rich bluff land near the town of La Farge have been added to the list of properties permanently protected through conservation agreements with Mississippi Valley Conservancy. Judy Kingsbury and Leslie Grossberg, the property owners, are self-described biology “nerds” who say that their deep attachment to the land dates to when they met on an organic farm at Plymouth, Wisconsin, in 1991.

“So we both have an interest in organic agriculture and conservation,” Judy said recently. The Madison couple stay in La Farge when they visit their property to work on planting, removal of old barbed wire fencing, invasive species removal or to “just relax,” as Leslie put it in a telephone interview. They were drawn to the beauty of the Kickapoo Valley during their search for land where they could work on ecological restoration.

Judy, who is volunteer program coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, said they “highly value” conservation efforts and know the concerns over habitat and species loss.  “We’re just glad to be able to protect this land — honored we can do this.” She paused and added, “It’s our responsibility to do it, to protect it forever. Maybe others will be inspired to do the same.”

The property’s forested areas include a mix of native species, such as red oak, shagbark hickory, burr oak, sugar maple, black cherry, and white ash. Judy said that their primary work on the land is encouraging the regrowth of forest. Abbie Church, MVC conservation director, said that as the ridge-top fallow fields fill in with grassland and young forest, a rich wildlife habitat is available for songbirds, turkey, whitetail deer, bear, fox and coyote. Native bees and other pollinators will flourish where there is an abundance of flowering plants and fruit-bearing trees.

Their agreement with the Conservancy permanently protects the land and resources from habitat destruction, from residential development, mining, inappropriate agriculture and forestry practices, as well as from subdivision that would break up the habitat, according to Megen Kabele, MVC conservation specialist who worked with the couple on the easement. “Judy and Leslie have provided through their conservation easement an enduring legacy to future generations while achieving peace-of- mind, knowing that their land will be taken care of far into the future,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director of the Conservancy.

Leslie said that they once considered moving to the La Farge area, but decided it would be better to stay in Madison, close to family. They began working on the easement only 4 1/2 years after purchasing the land so it, and their restoration work, would be protected in case they ever decided to sell it.

Judy said they enjoyed working with the conservancy staff who joined them for a survey of the property and its wildlife and vegetation.  “We were impressed by their level of attention to detail.” She described Abbie Church looking under leaf litter to find a cherrystone drop snail, a Wisconsin threatened species that is unique to the Driftless Area. “Super cool,” Judy said.



Founded in 1997, Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a nationally accredited regional land trust that has permanently protected nearly 20,000 acres of scenic lands in southwestern Wisconsin by working with private landowners, businesses and local communities on voluntary conservation projects. The focus of the Conservancy is to conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams and farms that enrich our communities, for the health and well-being of current and future generations. Learn more at

Rock county land to be transformed and open to public









The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member Groundswell Conservancy.


Good news that on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, through the generosity of Orfordville residents, Norman and Carol Aulabaugh, 75 acres of rolling landscape will be transformed into a public natural resource.

Norm and Carol donated the land, to be named Sunny Peace Prairie, to Green-Rock Audubon Society, who will be responsible for managing the restoration efforts. Groundswell Conservancy was granted a permanent conservation easement on the land to ensure that the Aulabaugh’s wishes for it to remain open for the public’s enjoyment be upheld, forever.

The Aulabaugh’s vision for Sunny Peace Prairie is for it to be a nature education resource and place for quiet contemplation.Transforming the land back into a prairie and oak woodland with walking paths will begin this year thanks to a generous endowment that Norm and Carol have established at the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.

When asked to say something about what motivated them to donate their land, Norm offered these words from the book O Pioneers! by Willa Cather:

“The land belongs to the future, Carl; that’s the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk’s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother’s children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it–for a little while.”

Hear Norm share their story in the above one-minute video .

Our thanks go to Norm and Carol for their wonderful gift to the future and to Groundswell Conservancy supporters that make our work on these projects possible.


Mississippi Valley Conservancy Launches Campaign to Match Anonymous Donor’s Gift as “Our Children’s Natural Heritage Endowment”


The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

LA CROSSE, WI – Mississippi Valley Conservancy announced that it has received a rare gift of $1 million from an anonymous donor who wishes to see the donation tripled to become a legacy for the Conservancy. To bolster its long-term commitment to protect designated lands in the nine-county area it serves, the Conservancy has launched an endowment campaign to fulfill the donor’s vision with a fund named “Our Children’s Natural Heritage Endowment.”

The donor, who wished to remain anonymous, is known to be a long-time supporter of the Conservancy who has protected the natural legacy of her own land, through a conservation agreement with the Conservancy. According to Carol Abrahamzon, executive director of the Conservancy, the donor expressed in a letter that the endowment gift is the best way to further her ambition to “promote long term good for our Earth, and our beloved Driftless Area.” Abrahamzon said, “The gift will kick off a campaign to grow the funds for Our Children’s Natural Heritage Endowment. The vision of the donor is for the endowment to grow to $3 million dollars through matched gifts and pledges.”

Former Conservancy President Warren Loveland said that the “protected forever” signs placed on Mississippi Valley Conservancy-protected properties “suggests the need for an endowment to help provide the financial capacity necessary to ensure that the Conservancy will be there to fulfill its promise.”  Incoming President, Rob Tyser, said the beauty of the donor’s gift is that “this fund will also be ‘forever’ – an enduring resource for safeguarding these lands in perpetuity.”

The Conservancy made a commitment in perpetuity 20 years ago, to protect the unique blufflands, prairies, forests, rivers, and farmlands of the Driftless Area. With the help of many supporters, including individuals, businesses, and foundations, it has now protected almost 20,000 acres and that number continues to grow. “This endowment will help us strengthen the commitment with reserve funds that offer a buffer, in the event of hardship, to ensure the Conservancy will be here to fulfill our forever promise,” said Abrahamzon.

Abrahamzon added that the “the value of individual donations is in no way diminished by the endowment. In fact,” she said, “the strength that members bring to this organization was a major factor in the donor’s decision to make the gift. Individual memberships make up the largest portion of our budget, now and in the future.”



Founded in 1997, Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a nationally accredited regional land trust that has permanently protected nearly 20,000 acres of scenic lands in southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area by working with private landowners, businesses and local communities on voluntary conservation projects. The focus of the Conservancy is to conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams and farms that enrich our communities, for the health and well-being of current and future generations. For additional information about the Conservancy, visit


Geneva Lake Conservancy Purchases 77-acre Property on Sugar Creek

The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member Geneva Lake Conservancy.

The Geneva Lake Conservancy has purchased a 77-acre parcel on Sugar Creek in the Town of Lafayette that will be open to the public for hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hunting and other recreational uses beginning this summer.

The property will offer a half mile hike to a rare oak opening, as well as opportunities to walk and fish along Sugar Creek, which is designated as a Class II Trout Stream.

Located on Highway ES east of Highway 12, the property was purchased with a $90,000 grant from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship program of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as a $50,000 grant from Ducks Unlimited and funding from private donations.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to open this beautiful parcel along Sugar Creek to the public,” said Kevin Brunner, chair of the Geneva Lake Conservancy’s Land Protection Committee. “It will offer a variety of recreational activities, as well as protect habitat for wildlife.”

Sugar Creek contains several species of concern, including the least darter, a small fish. The wetlands on the property also provide important habitat for ducks and other waterfowl. The purchase will preserve a buffer zone along the creek that will protect the waterway from agricultural runoff.

The property is identified by the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as a natural area of local significance that should be preserved, Brunner said.

“The Conservancy holds a conservation easement on another property along the creek known as the Sugar Creek Preserve,” said Dennis Jordan, Conservancy chairman. “The purchase of this property will allow us to begin to form a protected stream corridor and we will be talking with other landowners along Sugar Creek who may be interested in placing conservation easements along their streambanks.” This is the first time in its 40-year history that the Conservancy has used Knowles Nelson Stewardship funding to purchase land.

The new property also has historic value. It was along Sugar Creek that the Potawatomi tribe stopped to make more than 1,000 pounds of maple sugar before journeying to other camping grounds in the area, according to records in the Lake Geneva Library.

In addition to the funding for the Sugar Creek property, the Conservancy also was awarded another $160,000 grant from the Knowles Nelson program to purchase a second property in Walworth County that it will be raising matching funds for in 2018, said Karen Yancey, GLC’s Executive Director. “We want to thank all of the private donors who contributed to our new Land Acquisition Fund this year,” she said. “As Walworth County grows, it is so important to preserve land with high scenic and conservation value for wildlife habitat and public use.”

Private funding for the Hansen Preserve was made possible by donations from the following Conservancy supporters: Diane Beu, Charles and Dianna Colman, Chuck and Vicki Ebeling, Al Hermansen and Dorothy Sullivan, Dennis and Diane Jordan, John K. Notz, Jr., Wendy Perks Fisher, the Robert and Patricia Moore Foundation, Peter and Julee Scherrer, and Bill and Barbara Turner. The purchase brings the total number of acres protected by the Conservancy to 2035.

The Conservancy also wants to thank Russell and Cheryl Hansen, the former owners of the property, who worked with the Conservancy throughout 2017 to meet the grant requirements for purchasing the property, Yancey said.

The new Conservancy property will be known as the Hansen Preserve. It is expected to open in July, 2018 and will be marked by a sign along Highway ES.


Partnership with Mequon Nature Preserve to prevent development of Trinity Creek floodplain

The following post was written by Don Behm for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on January 8, 2018.


The last unprotected reach of Trinity Creek close to its headwater springs in Mequon will be relieved of a recurring burden of soil and agricultural pollutants now that it has been acquired by the Mequon Nature Preserve.

To ensure the 6.38-acre property west of busy Wauwatosa Road is not developed in the future, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has proposed paying $50,000 to the nature preserve to create a permanent conservation easement on the property deed that prohibits subdivision and building construction.

Not to stop there, the easement would require restoration of native grasses and trees on the land.

The easement would allow one change to the landscape. The Mequon Nature Preserve could shift the flow of the creek through the roadside property out of a straightened agricultural drainage ditch and into a more natural, meandering channel, said David Grusznski, Milwaukee program manager for The Conservation Fund.

MMSD proposed acquiring the easement for its Greenseams flood management program so the low-lying property would remain available to store floodwater and the conservation measures would improve the creek’s water quality, Grusznski said. The Conservation Fund administers Greenseams for MMSD.

Replacing the ditch is a top priority for the nature center, Mequon Nature Preserve Executive Director Kristin Gies said. A more natural stream channel would provide “more effective fish passage” upstream, she said.

“We’ve been dying to do this,” Gies said. She described the ditch as “a cork in the creek’s fish habitat.”

“It’s a challenge for fish to get through that ditch,” she said.

A few northern pike from the Milwaukee River have made it through the shallow ditch to spawn in upstream ponds and wetlands at the nature preserve. Groundwater bubbles to the surface in natural springs that flow into the ponds and form the headwaters of the creek.

More fish of all sizes would be able to reach the ponds and adjacent wetlands if they get rid of the ditch, Gies said.

Greenseams already has preserved streambank properties on both sides of the small parcel, Grusznski said.

MMSD owns an easement on 26 acres to the west that encompasses the ponds and wetlands near the preserve’s PieperPower Education Center.

In 2009, the district purchased 26 acres of Trinity Creek floodplain immediately east of Wauwatosa Road. A few years earlier, the district acquired an adjacent 40-acre parcel of floodplain farther east.

This easement will complete protection of the entire upstream end of Trinity Creek, from its headwaters downstream to within a stone’s throw of the Lilly Lane Nature Preserve off Baehr Road, Grusznski said.

The MMSD commission this month will act on the district staff’s request to purchase the easement for $50,000. The commission’s policy and finance committee will consider the proposal Monday.

Mequon Nature Preserve purchased the 6.38-acre parcel in late November from K&L Trust LLC, Gies said.

West Wisconsin, Bayfield land trusts to combine

The following post was published by The Country Today in Eau Claire, WI on January 2, 2018.


The boards of the West Wisconsin Land Trust in Menomonie and the Bayfield Regional Conservancy in Bayfield have agreed to form a new land trust to better continue their mission of land conservation. After nearly two years of discussion and planning, they will join to create a regional land trust serving all of western and northwestern Wisconsin.

Both land trusts have been serving parts of the new land trust’s 20-county service area, with Bayfield focusing primarily on the northwest region while West Wisconsin operates throughout the area.

“The boards agreed that combining the two organizations will not only eliminate duplication but will also create a more robust, sustainable conservation organization for the long term, we are very excited about the potential of this new venture,” said West Wisconsin board chairperson Peter Vaughan.

“Our organizations have been conserving land for nearly 30 years, but there remains so much more to be done. We look forward to combining forces for the betterment of the land and the people of our region for many decades to come,” said Kim Bro, Bayfield Regional Conservancy board president.

The new land trust will continue to maintain an office in Bayfield, with the administrative office located at West Wisconsin Land Trust’s current office in Menomonie. Launch of the new organization is set for spring of 2018.

Conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy connects protected lands near Viroqua

The following post was written by Marc Wehrs for the La Crosse Tribune on December 30, 2017.

Mark Heberlein has planted hundreds of seedling trees, including red, bur and white oak, hawthorn and chestnut on land he and Kathleen Fitzgerald have placed in a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy.


VIROQUA — Mark Heberlein’s and Kathleen Fitzgerald’s 146-acre property near Viroqua consists of scenic wooded bluffland and native grasslands along a ¾-mile-long stretch of the South Fork Bad Axe River.

With a conservation agreement signed this week with Mississippi Valley Conservancy, their extensive conservation efforts will be protected in perpetuity for the health and well-being of current and future generations.

Depending on the season, a hike through their property might feature a sandhill crane grazing or a glimpse of a brilliantly colored indigo bunting and scarlet tanager.

According to Heberlein, “Sandhills are out there, nesting in our valley. It is amazing to think that historically their population was decimated and has now rebounded. We’ve created an island of habitat.”

“Sandhill numbers were down to an estimated 25 breeding pairs 80 years ago, and in our lifetime have rebounded up to over 5,000 pairs,” said Abbie Church, Conservancy conservation director.

Heberlein and Fitzgerald have restored remnant prairie with prescribed burning and invasive species control, improved the woodlands with timber stand improvement and tree plantings, and enhanced the South Fork Bad Axe River with stream bank stabilization projects and planting perennial native cover to filter and absorb runoff and floodwaters. The land includes multiple springs and seeps, all draining into the river, a valuable coldwater trout fishery.

“Their work to restore the diversity and resiliency to the land is a testament to their land ethic,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director of the Conservancy, “and we are honored to protect that work permanently.”

This land has been a labor of love over the past 17 years for Heberlein, who has planted hundreds of seedling trees, including red, bur, and white oak, hawthorn, and chestnut. Former croplands have been seeded to native prairie grassland, with a sea of big bluestem, switchgrass, yellow coneflower, bee balm and others providing food and cover for area wildlife, including pollinators.

Heberlein and Fitzgerald’s property is situated next to another 81 acres protected by the conservancy and just a mile away from 600-plus acres of private land protected by the conservancy and adjacent to 185-acres of DNR land. To the north is 487-acre Sidie Hollow Park.

Founded in 1997, Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a nationally accredited regional land trust that has permanently protected nearly 20,000 acres of scenic lands in southwestern Wisconsin by working with private landowners, businesses and local communities on voluntary conservation projects.

Two Families Give the Gift of Nature

Conservation easements protect rare fen in Walworth County.


The following post was written by our wonderful land trust member The Nature Conservancy.


East Troy, Wisconsin | December 27, 2017
When the Boeing and Emmerich families bought their land near East Troy in Walworth County, they didn’t know it was special. They loved the rolling hills, the big oak trees, the wildlife. In time, they realized they had purchased part of one of the most biologically rich wetlands in southeast Wisconsin, known as Pickerel Lake Fen.

This winter, the two families donated conservation easements on their land to The Nature Conservancy to protect it. Through the easements, they have given up their ability, and the ability of any future owners, to develop the land.

“When we bought our property,” said Signe Emmerich, “the views of the fen from the hilltop first attracted us. But soon we noticed the details—the wildlife and the seasonal prairie plants—and we knew we had something special. We wanted to make sure all of it was protected even after we are gone.”

“I’m relieved,” said Jack Boeing. “Now I don’t have to stay awake at night worrying that someday someone will build condos on this land we’ve come to love.”

Jack and Marcia Boeing donated a conservation easement on a little over 153 acres of land, which encompasses the entire east side of Pickerel Lake Fen. Approximately 75 acres is high ground where many new homes could have been built.

Gerry and Signe Emmerich updated their easement on 7.5 acres, which they had donated to the Conservancy in 1985, with an amended and restated easement that also protects an additional 15 acres, eliminating the potential to build three new residences on the property.

The Nature Conservancy established its Pickerel Lake Fen Preserve in December 1985, when the Emmerichs donated their first easement; they also donated another 12.8 acres outright at that time. A week later, their neighbors, Roy and Eleanor Muth donated 27 acres to the Conservancy. Since 1985, the Conservancy has protected a little over 381 acres in and around the fen and lake.

Pickerel Lake Fen is home to pitcher plants and other showy species like marsh blue violet and Joe-pye weed. Rare turtles use the site as do sandhill cranes and other wildlife. According to the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the fen is tied for first place with Ottawa Lake Fen as the most biologically diverse fen in southeast Wisconsin.

Individually, the Boeings and Emmerichs have spent at least 30 years restoring the prairie and oak savanna that once occurred on their land and across the Midwest. But restoring the fen required team work.

Non-native shrubs, including buckthorn and honeysuckle, rimmed the edges of the fen and were slowly advancing on the interior. Left unchecked, they threatened to outcompete the native vegetation and eventually take over completely.

“We needed to burn the entire fen to keep the invasive shrubs in check,” said Conservancy Land Management Director Hannah Spaul. “But eight other private landowners owned portions of it, so the challenge we faced was how to gain their support for burning the fen, which is right in their backyards.”

Gerry Emmerich began talking to his neighbors about burning the fen, and all of them, including the Boeings, granted the Conservancy permission to burn on their land. The first burn of the entire 190-acre fen took place in April 2004.

Jack Boeing, who watched that first burn from his home, commented, “It was a windy day, so I was a little nervous before the burn. But once they got started, I was very impressed with the professional way they carried it out. They really knew what they were doing.”

Since 2004, the Conservancy and their neighbors have burned the fen two more times.

“We’ve done a good job of keeping the shrubs from taking over the fen,” Spaul commented, “but this is an ongoing process. We look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors to carefully apply fire to the fen to keep it healthy.”

“All of the places we love in Wisconsin have been protected because people like the Emmerichs, Boeings and their neighbors chose to take action to safeguard them,” said Mary Jean Huston, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin. “At the holiday season, we can think of no greater gift to current and future generations.”

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