Archived entries for Land Trust Alliance

Driftless Area Land Conservancy Earns National Recognition

Strong Commitment to Public Trust and Conservation Excellence

At a time of political change, one thing is clear: Americans overwhelmingly support saving the open spaces they love. Since 2001 Driftless Area Land Conservancy (“Driftless”), one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States, has been doing just that for the people of Southwest Wisconsin.

Now Driftless is pleased to announce it has achieved national recognition, joining a network of only 372 accredited land trusts across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in their work.

To be accredited demonstrates our commitment to permanent land conservation in Southwest Wisconsin,” said Mike Van Sicklen, Driftless’ board president. “Financial supporters, conservation partners and landowners should all feel comfort in the knowledge that we’re a strong, ethical and fiscally responsible organization for having gone through the rigorous accreditation program.

Driftless Executive Director, David Clutter, and his son are seen here at the 220-acre Erickson Conservation Area in Argyle Wisconsin, which is open for public enjoyment.

Driftless had to provide extensive documentation and undergo a comprehensive review as part of its accreditation application. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded accreditation, signifying its confidence that Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s lands will be protected forever. Over the past 16 years Driftless has conserved 42 different sites covering nearly 7,000 acres of farms, forests and natural areas, including the 220-acre Erickson Conservation Area in Argyle Wisconsin, open for public enjoyment.

Over the years Driftless has also conserved unique historic lands and resources like the Thomas Stone Barn outside of Barneveld, high quality trout streams, productive farmland, critical wildlife habitat for declining grassland birds and endangered species, old-growth woods and native remnant prairies, massive rock outcrops and geological features, and lands that provide buffer unique Wisconsin River backwaters that support threatened and engaged fish.

“It is exciting to recognize Driftless Area Land Conservancy with this distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Commission. “Accredited land trusts are united behind strong ethical standards ensuring the places people love will be conserved forever. Accreditation recognizes Driftless Area Land Conservancy has demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”

The National Land Trust Census, released December 1, 2016 by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that accredited land trusts have made significant achievements.

  • Accredited land trusts protected five times more land from 2010 to 2015 than land trusts that were not yet accredited.
  • Accredited land trusts also have stronger systems and more resources to steward and defend their conservation lands forever.
  • As a result, the public’s trust in land conservation has increased helping to win support for federal, state and local conservation funding measures.

A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits are detailed at

About the Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s purpose is to maintain and enhance the health, diversity and beauty of Southwest Wisconsin’s natural and agricultural landscape through permanent land protection and restoration, and improve people’s lives by connecting them to the land and to each other.

A student birding on one of the properties that is protected by Driftless and free for the public to enjoy.

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit

About the Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. Based in Washington, D.C., and with several regional offices, the Alliance represents about 1,000 member land trusts nationwide.

The Alliance’s leadership serves the entire land trust community—our work in the nation’s capital represents the policy priorities of land conservationists from every state; our education programs improve and empower land trusts from Maine to Alaska; and our comprehensive vision for the future of land conservation includes new partners, new programs and new priorities. Connect with us online at

This blog post was copied from Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s blog

Our Hats off To You!

Northwoods Land Trust and Ozaukee Washington Land Trust are accredited!

North Woods bw logoOzaukee Washington logo

After a rigorous review and verification of their practices, procedures, and documents, two Wisconsin land trusts have been newly accredited by the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission. This “good housekeeping seal of approval” is a big honor in our industry and we’re incredibly proud of the efforts of these organizations!

These two land trusts join six others in Wisconsin and are among only 207 nationwide.

Both Northwoods and Ozaukee Washington were participants in our Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program (LEAP) last year. Through the support they received through this program, together we conducted a guided organizational assessment, created recommendations for improvements and developed a plan to meet them, offered coaching and mentoring to implement these new practices, and awarded each land trust a cash grant to tackle one or more of their highest priorities.

While the credit is entirely in the hands of the staff and boards of these two land trusts, we’re sure proud to have been a part of the process! Seeing land trusts reap rewards like the accreditation seal is music to our ears at Gathering Waters.

Our heartfelt congrats to the staff and board members at Northwoods and Ozaukee Washington Land Trusts!




LEAPing into 2013

Land trusts are impacting communities through our signature program!

For those of you not involved in land trust work day-to-day, it can be tough to stay on top of the lingo and acronyms.  LEAP, or Wisconsin’s Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program, is GWC’s signature program to deliver services to land trusts to help ensure their sustainability, effectiveness, and credibility.

We launched the program in 2011 in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance to address the growing challenges faced by our maturing land trust community.  Through small grants, customized support, trainings, and mentoring, we’re building land trusts’ capacity to continue to steward and protect the forests, farms, trails, rivers, and urban green spaces across Wisconsin.

We’re two years in to LEAP and already starting to see local, on-the-ground impact of this program.  Here’s one inspiring example…


With support from LEAP, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy is inspiring a lifelong love of nature through storytelling.

It is well documented that today’s youth are more disconnected from nature than ever before – a trend that more than one local land trust is working to reverse.  

Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) is a small, yet powerful land trust working to protect the rugged beauty and ancient geology of southwest Wisconsin’s driftless area.  As a 2012 recipient of a special services grant through LEAP, DALC received support to enhance their work connecting local children to the special, natural places in their backyards.

For the younger set (ages 2 – 5), DALC is partnering with the local library on a nature and farm-based storytelling program to inspire a lifelong love of the land.  Kids ages 6 -11 have the opportunity to  experience nature, join in outdoor activities, and reflect on the natural world through the Driftless Explorers Club.

DALC is growing the next generation of conservation leaders in southwest Wisconsin and instilling in them the gift of a lifelong relationship with the land.  Thank you, DALC!

This is just one example of the myriad impacts that land trust are having on communities across the state — and we’re here to help enhance that impact.  Through LEAP, we’re proud to report that we’ve offered customized, one-on-one support to 34% of Wisconsin land trusts. In addition, we’ve:

  • Coached 750 land trust staff and board members through trainings, workshops, one-on-one assistance, and virtual learning opportunities.
  • Helped increase the number of nationally accredited land trusts in Wisconsin from one to six (while also helping several more in process).
  • Provided direct grants to land trusts to help them hire their first staff, improve outreach techniques to the community, or acquire valuable leadership development training.

GWC is currently accepting applications for a new set LEAP Standards & Practices grants.  Stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement of the land trusts joining the program in 2013!


Post-Election Rundown

With the November elections behind us, we’re now focused on the upcoming state budget process here in Wisconsin and several important issues in Congress.  We will continue our non-partisan approach to our public policy work, reaching out and connecting land trusts with elected officials across the political spectrum.

One notable take-away from the recent elections is that conservation continues to be a high priority for citizens across the country, with 46 of 57 conservation-related ballot measures passing nationwide (an 81 percent success rate).  Through these measures, communities across the country approved more than $2 billion in conservation funding.

At the state level, we’ve been preparing for the next state budget process, which will formally begin with the release of the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal in January.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the state begins the 2013 fiscal year with a $342.1million surplus which is the largest opening balance since fiscal year 2000-01.

We are focused on our two top priorities – the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the statewide Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program.  The Stewardship Program is authorized at $60 million annually through 2020, and we will be working with the Governor’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, and leadership in the Legislature to maintain this funding and to ensure that the program operates efficiently, and with the utmost transparency and accountability.  The Stewardship Program continues to be strongly supported by the public and provides direct support to the state’s tourism and forestry sectors, while enhancing the quality of life in communities throughout the state.

The statewide PACE program remains on the books but is currently unfunded and we are partnering with the American Farmland Trust and a broad Friends of Farmland Protection coalition to advocate for the program and identify possible sources for future funding.  Early this year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection released a PACE Evaluation Report, which provides a good basis for stream-lining and improving the program.

On the federal front, we are currently in a 45-day sprint to renew the enhanced tax incentive for the donation of easements and to pass the Farm Bill before Congress adjourns.  We’ve been working with partners like the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, and land trusts throughout the Great Lakes region to move these important conservation priorities forward.  Learn more.

As the negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” begin to ramp up, we’ve also been hearing that Congress may be looking to cap charitable deductions.  This issue is much larger than land trusts and would impact the broader nonprofit community nationwide, but it could have a very real impact on our work.  Learn more.

Please contact your elected officials to tell them how important these issues are for your organization and your community.  Here is contact information for state officials and for Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Stay tuned to the Conservation Policy section of our website for further updates.

Go West!

In early October, Gathering Waters Conservancy staff had to the pleasure of attending the Land Trust Alliance‘s Rally: The National Land Conservation Conference in Salt Lake City.  Some of us were lucky enough to arrive early to explore the beautiful (and quite different from Wisconsin!) landscape:

A view of Canyonlands National Park near Moab.

The Salt Lake Temple in Temple Square, Salt Lake City.

Once the conference began, we were eager to take full advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to meet with and learn from our peers from across the country.  Here are a few highlights from our experience:

  • In a session run by the Willistown Conservation Trust, based in southeastern Pennsylvania, we learned about their community farm program – an innovative program that furthers the organization’s mission of preserving land by deepening the community’s connection between food, land, and nature.

A rendering of Rushton Farm, the setting for the Willistown Conservation Trust’s community farm program.

  • Together with our partners at the Land Trust Alliance, we brought together the land trust staff and board members from Michigan and Wisconsin to discuss recent successes and challenges, and share news of upcoming opportunities to benefit their work.

Wisconsin and Michigan conservationists meet over breakfast at Rally.

  •  The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico provided details on their wonderful and inspirational example of integrating their land trust, scientists and citizens to advance research for conservation, improve management decisions and increase community stewardship.  This is quite an amazing program!
  • Marc Smiley of Solid Ground Consulting and Dale Bonar of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust shared their experiences with the merging of land trusts into an organization with improved capacity and conservation results.  We learned about conditions that lead to successful merger, some alternatives to merger, and insight about how to approach the options using the merger of several Hawaiian land trusts.
  • A major theme of Rally was community engagement and the need to develop new strategies to demonstrate the importance of what land trusts do.  On this note, we were fortunate to attend a workshop in which Colorado Conservation Trust and the Metropolitan Group discussed findings of their two-year community engagement pilot program with the Palmer Land Trust and Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust of Colorado.  We learned how to identify new audiences and stakeholders to support conservation and the value of community engagement in every aspect of an organization.  Very enlightening stuff!

We’re already looking forward to Rally 2013.  Save the date: September 17 – 19 in New Orleans!


GWC: A Week in the Life

As the service center for Wisconsin’s land trust community, we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to travel across the state, visit its special places, and work alongside Wisconsin’s most talented and passionate conservationists.  What follows is a glimpse of a week in the life of Gathering Waters Conservancy…

GWC: Traveling across the state to strengthen Wisconsin land trusts

Working with our Regional Partners to Strengthen Conservation in the Mississippi Blufflands
Although our mission is clearly focused on Wisconsin conservation, we often find that our work here is strengthened by working with partners at the regional and even national levels.  One such example is our partnership with the Blufflands Alliance – a group of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa land trusts working together to preserve the blufflands of the Mississippi River.  We were present at their quarterly meeting in Galena, IL to explore how working together increases our collective capacity to protect more land in the blufflands. 

Introducing GWC and the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust to community leaders in Green Bay
At GWC we’re lucky to have an exemplary, committed board of directors that is always striving to advance our mission using their unique skills and connections.  One such director is Randall Lawton, from De Pere, who has stated that his goal during his service on our board is to increase support for private land conservation in northeast Wisconsin. In an effort to do just that, he hosted a breakfast reception in Green Bay to introduce his friends and colleagues to GWC and NEWLT.  In attendance were representatives from the local media, business owners, elected officials, and community leaders — all of whom now know more about their local land trust and how we’re working together to protect the special places in northeast Wisconsin.

Throwing out the First Pitch!

GWC had the unique opportunity to be the featured nonprofit at a Madison Mallards game – the popular summer collegiate baseball team.  Not only did we introduce GWC and Wisconsin land trusts to ~1,000 new people, but we also got to throw out the first pitch!

The six year old daughter of GWC Executive Director Mike Strigel throws out the first pitch.


Supporting our friends at the Northwoods Land Trust
The Northwoods Land Trusts’ annual meeting was held over the weekend at Minocqua Winter Park – the site of the largest ever conservation easement donated to a Wisconsin land trust.  GWC was in attendance to show our support for the land trust and its record-breaking work, as well as to meet with their staff and board to discuss our upcoming work to help NWLT prepare for Land Trust Accreditation.

Delivering Capacity-Building Services to Tall Pines Conservancy in Wisconsin’s Lake Country

A central component of our Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program (LEAP) is working one-on-one with land trusts to assess how they meet Land Trust Standards & Practices, the legal and technical guidelines that guide land trust work.  This week our Land Trust Program Director, along with her counterpart from the Midwest office of the Land Trust Alliance, visited with the staff and board of Tall Pines Conservancy to guide their assessment session.  Next, they’ll deliver a set of recommendations and provide support to assist Tall Pines with fully implementing Land Trust Standards & Practices.

And we’re already looking forward to what next week holds!


Another Great Year for the Land Legacy Gathering!

Each year, the Land Legacy Gathering is our opportunity to honor the people who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy and help preserve the places that make Wisconsin special. This year was no different. For our 5th annual Gathering, we partnered with the River Revitalization Foundation and the Land Trust Alliance and met in Milwaukee to celebrate the fruits of what partnerships at the local, state, and national level can accomplish.

The 5th annual Gathering consisted of a tour of land that was conserved through great partnerships; the Beerline Trail and Wheelhouse property. A huge congratulations to the River Revitalization Foundation on this preserve! The hike began with a guided tour of the Wheelhouse Property, which was purchased and removed by the River Revitalization Foundation to make way for a park and to connect the Beerline Trail and the Oak Leaf Trail together.

Tour of the Wheelhouse Property

Hikers also witnessed the ribbon cutting of the newly completed Kiwanis Landing which provides improved access to the Milwaukee River.

Ribbon cutting at the Kiwanis Landing

For the last part of the afternoon, hikers were taken on a guided tour of the Beerline Trail. The tour provided scenic views of downtown as well as of the Milwaukee River.

Tour of the Beerline Trail

After the hike, attendees gathered at The Hamilton for the reception, where good, local, sustainable food was enjoyed thanks to Braise. Great speeches were also given by our sponsors and our partners this year. Thank you to everyone who braved the cold and came out to the 5th annual Gathering and helped us celebrate all of the wonderful conservation work happening in Wisconsin!

Reception speeches at The Hamilton

The Land Legacy Gathering: 5 years of touring Wisconsin’s special places

Our annual Land Legacy Gathering honors the people who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy, and offers attendees the opportunity to learn how their support is advancing the land trust movement, locally, statewide and nationally. Each year we hold the event at a different, significant conservation site in Wisconsin.  In this, our fifth year of the event, we hope you make plans to attend – all are welcome! – and join us as we look back at the previous Gathering sites.

Guests arriving at the Leopold Shack, April 2008

The first ever Land Legacy Gathering, co-hosted by the Baraboo Range Preservation Association and the Aldo Leopold Foundation in 2008, was held at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Centerin Baraboo Wisconsin. The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center was built from pines planted by the Leopold family and is the first LEED Platinum, carbon neutral building in the world. The Gathering included a hike to the Historic Leopold Shack which was the Leopold family’s weekend retreat and served as inspiration for the writing, observations, and lessons of Aldo Leopold.

In 2009, the Gathering was held at the Mequon Nature Preserve in partnership with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. The Mequon Nature Preserve is a groundbreaking example of a restored natural area in an urban/suburban community. Attendees hiked through the Preserve’s 438 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and open fields.

Gathering guests enjoying a hike in the Kinni River Canyon, April 2010.

In 2010, the Gathering was held at the Kinnickinnic River Canyon Property in River Falls and co-hosted with the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust. The Kinnickinnic River flows through 96,000 square acres and the protected area includes creeks, springs, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat, native plant communities, rare and endangered species, bluffs, coulees, and family farms. The event involved a guided hike of the Kinnickinnic River Canyon ecosystem restoration project.

The Ice Age Trail Alliance, based in Cross Plains, was our co-host site in 2011. At the Gathering, guests were taken on a guided hike of the Table Bluff segment of the Ice Age Trail.  The Ice Age Trail is a thousand-mile footpath, protected and managed by the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and highlights the unique features carved into Wisconsin’s landscape by a glacier over 12,000 years ago.

An oasis in urban Milwaukee

This year, we are excited to announce the Beer Line Trail and Wheelhouse Property as the location for our 2012 Land Legacy Gathering. These are two of Milwaukee’s most significant conservation sites. The conversion of this once blighted site into a riverfront park is very special for urban dwellers, who now have improved access to additional green space in the city and the river valley system of trails. This year we have partnered with the Land Trust Alliance and are co-hosting the event with the River Revitalization Foundation. We look forward to another great turnout this year and are hoping for beautiful weather!

For more information on this year’s event, please visit our website.  Hope to see you all there!

Three More Wisconsin Land Trusts Receive National Seal

As we previewed last spring, we’re pleased to announce that Mississippi Valley ConservancyBayfield Regional Conservancy, and Caledonia Conservancy are officially accredited!  Our hats are off to you!

See a video we made about the process and hear testimonials from these land trust leaders.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission was incorporated in April 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance to operate a land trust accreditation program to build and recognize strong land trusts, foster public confidence in land conservation and help ensure the long-term protection of land. The Commission is governed by a board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts from around the country. Commissioners volunteer their expertise to verify that a land trust is carrying out specific indicator practices from Land Trust Standards and Practices.

The accreditation seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation. It recognizes organizations for meeting national
standards for excellence, upholding the public trust, and ensuring that conservation efforts are permanent.

The invitation to apply comes after many months, often years, of work revising policy, updating records, and fund-raising to ensure perpetual agreements are upheld.

Previously there had only been one accredited land trust in WI, Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, so these three additions are significant!  Each of these organizations has had connections with and received services from GWC and the Land Trust Alliance as recently as this year.  As we look ahead to meeting our goals for the Land Trust Excellence and Advancement Program (LEAP), we’re proud to share with you these accomplishments that align so squarely with our commitment to land trust excellence.

New LEAP Peer Learning Opportunities – Join Us!

We at GWC are very excited to announce a new offering through the Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program and our partnerships with the Land Trust Alliance Midwest Program and the Heart of the Lakes in Michigan. 

Building on the success of the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring program piloted in Michigan in 2010,  we are teaming up to offer a peer-to-peer mentoring program in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2012.  Due to the generosity of our LEAP funders, participation in the program is free and available to all land trust members of Gathering Waters!

What is the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program?

This is an organized effort to match peers of similar experiences throughout Michigan and Wisconsin to learn from one another as a component of both ACE (Accelerating Conservancy Excellence) and LEAP (Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program).  This mentoring program will foster relationships and advance learning and sharing opportunities within the land trust community.  In addition to individual visits there will be group learning opportunities throughout the year and we will reimburse peers for making one trip to visit another peer.

 Is it right for me?

We hope so!  The program is designed for staff and board members of land trusts in WI and MI that are willing to share their expertise as well as learn from others doing similar work.  The requirements of the program are that participants make one trip between March 1 and October 31, 2012, and be willing to host peers at their land trust.

 How do I apply?

Applications are due by January 20, 2012 and should be submitted electronically to MaryKay O’Donnell, Kate Zurlo-Cuva, AND Julie Stoneman.


Call or e-mail Kate Zurlo-Cuva  (608-251-9131, ext. 12).

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