Archived entries for Conservationist of the Year

Ron Endres named 2016 Conservationist of the Year

Ron Endres is a private landowner and champion of native area restoration in Dane County. In addition to being a model steward to his and many of his neighbors’ lands, Ron is also an incredibly active volunteer with numerous area organizations. But what truly makes him special is far more unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds to provide them free-of-charge, to local non-profits and private landowners.

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting.

Ron’s land stewardship activities are truly inspirational. He has worked over the last 25 years to reconstruct a 21 acre prairie and spends much of his time maintaining the land, adding to its species diversity and fighting back invasive species. He helps many of his neighbors as well, burning their prairies, treating their invasives, and restoring their land.

Ron is also an invaluable volunteer for many area organizations such as Dane County Parks, The Prairie Enthusiasts, The Ice Age Trail Alliance, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Swamplovers, and many others. He leads school kids and adult volunteers, serves on a board, is a chain saw team member, leads prairie plantings and burns, as well as seed collection and processing.

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery.

It is, however, what Ron does in addition to these stewardship and volunteer activities that makes him so unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds—providing hundreds of pounds and more than 100 species of seed, free of charge, to nonprofits and private landowners each year.

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

From big projects like a 23 acre planting at Hickory Hill in Cross Plains, a 30 plus acre planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery, and countless acres of planting at Swamplover’s conservancy—to small projects like Kettle Pond in Madison, a municipal restoration in Beloit, and a neighborhood restoration at Odana golf course; Ron’s seeds have ended up in restorations all over the county. His unwavering commitment to native habitat restoration makes it Gathering Waters’ honor to award Ron the prestigious Conservationist of the Year award. Ron will be presented with his award at a Friends of Wisdom Prairie Dinner Lecture on November 2. Click here to learn more and register.

Dan Burke, 2015 Conservationist of the Year

Dan Burke, Executive Director of Door County Land Trust (DCLT), has been helping DCLT become a treasured and highly respected institution for nearly 20 years. Under his leadership, DCLT has preserved over 7,000 acres of land in one of the state’s most beautiful and ecologically diverse counties, and has grown its membership to over 2,200.

Dan Burke by J Schartner

Photo credit: J Schartner

His dedication and leadership skills have been crucial to DCLT’s success. He has led many challenging easement negotiations and spearheaded efforts to raise the funds needed to further the organization’s mission.  He’s built a talented and capable staff, and forged strong working partnerships with numerous conservation groups, enabling them to more effectively preserve Door County’s shoreline, wetlands, habitat and scenic areas through collaboration, leveraging each other’s skills and resources. This has strengthened land conservation as a whole in northern Wisconsin and it provides public accessibility to natural areas and outdoor recreation to thousands of people each year.

DCLT_3SpringsPreserve_ JSchartner

Photo taken at Three Springs Preserve, a special place protected by Door County Land Trust. Photo credit: J Schartner

“While many people have contributed to the success of the Door County Land Trust, Dan’s visionary and dedicated leadership, and his ability to communicate, negotiate, structure, fund, and complete complex transactions, has been crucial. Dan’s ability to work cooperatively with land owners, communities, government officials and donors has resulted in a steady stream of truly great projects. Without Dan, and the Land Trust he has built, long-term preservation of this precious area would be very much at risk. Instead, it will benefit many generations to come.” Roy Thilly

For all of these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to honor Dan Burke with a Conservationist of the Year Award, on September 24th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website! 

Melissa Cook, 2014 Conservationist of the Year

Melissa Cook, a Parks and Recreation Specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), has dedicated the majority of her professional life to restoring the natural resources in the heart of Milwaukee, making those resources accessible to residents.

Through her leadership, Melissa has helped to develop a sense of ownership, stewardship and wonder among central city populations not often reached by typical environmental outreach efforts.

Melissa has demonstrated incredible vision and perseverance for over fifteen years, in the development, promotion, stewardship and enhancement of the Hank Aaron State Trail in the Menomonee Valley. This urban state trail provides opportunities for recreation and fitness, improvements to an important environmental corridor, rehabilitation of urban waterways, economic growth, and overall quality of urban life. Through her leadership, Melissa has helped to develop a sense of ownership, stewardship and wonder among central city populations not often reached by typical environmental outreach efforts.

Menomonee River in 1999, and Menomonee River and Hank Aaron State Trail in 2011. What a difference!

Menomonee River in 1999

“Melissa’s vision, leadership and unwavering perseverance are a primary reason why a once forgotten stretch of river cutting though a vacant brownfield is today filled with neighborhood children walking river paths, anglers catching salmon, bikers from throughout SE Wisconsin, and an array of native flora and fauna re-establishing along the Menomonee River.” (Laura Bray, Executive Director, Menomonee Valley Partners)

Bray & MVP - letter of support2

Menomonee River and Hank Aaron State Trail in 2011. What a difference!

Over the last fifteen years, Melissa has coordinated events such as the Hank Aaron run/walk every August, river clean ups, volunteer days to plant native species along the trail and public events to educate the community about this great asset. She also helped to create Stew Crews – businesses, schools, and neighborhood organizations who have adopted sections of the Trail and help with its maintenance.

Among other things, this urban state trail provides opportunities for recreation and fitness, including an annual run/walk, coordinated by Melissa Cook.

Among other things, this urban state trail provides opportunities for recreation and fitness- including an annual run/walk, coordinated by Melissa Cook.

For all of these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to honor Melissa Cook with a Conservationist of the Year Award, on September 25th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website!     

Healthy waterways, fish, and communities: Thank you to our Conservationists of the Year!

We’re honored to recognize Dale Buser & Andrew Struck as our 2013 Conservationists of the Year.  Dale and Andrew were essential in the creation of the Ozaukee Fish Passage Program, which reconnects existing, high quality fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Milwaukee River Watershed and drainage to Lake Michigan and supports public efforts to re-establish and encourage self-sustaining native populations of threatened, special-concern and game fish.

Andrew Struck

Of the 158 miles of streams that have been reconnected through this program, those streams now link the Milwaukee River main stem to over 119,000 acres of habitat, including 14,000 acres of wetlands. These passages help to improve natural resources and recreational opportunities, increase migratory fish populations, and benefit endangered fish species and species of concern.

Dale Buser

Andrew and Dale work as an exemplary team and have been instrumental in the developing of the vision, plan, and execution of the environmental model. Dale’s background as a hydro-geologist and his love of fish paired with Andrew’s finesse with the government and his position as the Director of Planning and Parks for Ozaukee County enabled the two to turn the dream of the fish passage project into a reality.

Their ingenuity, determination, skill, and years of intensive work has already made and continues to make a significant impact upon all of Ozaukee County’s waterways, the health of the environment, and has become a driving force in uniting the community around the need for healthy rivers, streams and wetlands.

Please join us in celebrating and honoring Andrew & Dale at our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration on September 26th at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI.



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