Archived entries for LEAP

20 Years Strong

Can you believe it? We’ve been strengthening Wisconsin’s land trusts for 20 years now! That’s right, it’s our 20th Anniversary.  We can’t think of a better time to reflect upon how we arrived at where we are today and the successes we’ve had along the way….

Here is a snapshot of some of the achievements we are most proud of, since our founding in 1994:

We wouldn't be where we are today without your support - thank you!!

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us as well as the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support.

  • The number of land trusts working in Wisconsin has increased from 12 to over 50
  • The membership of Wisconsin’s land trusts has grown to nearly 55,000 members statewide
  • These land trusts have permanently protected well over 280,000 acres of Wisconsin’s natural heritage
  • We have become a respected voice for private land conservation in the state and have earned our reputation as the premier land trust service center in the nation


    Together we protect special places, where youth discover the magic of the outdoors for the first time.

But more meaningful is the resulting impact of those acres conserved, organizations and collaborations established, and contacts made. Together with our land trust members, partners, and supporters, we are helping to protect the special places where we can all go to exercise and recreate, that protect our local food base and agricultural economy, where youth are discovering the magic of the outdoors for the first time, and that are home to our most precious resources and threatened species.


Together we protect our local food base and agricultural economy.

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us and the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support. But our work is not finished. Please consider becoming a monthly donor, to help ensure that you and your loved ones will always be able to enjoy all the benefits of Wisconsin’s outdoors.

2014: An Exciting, New Year

Hopefully your 2014 is off to an excellent start…. We at Gathering Waters are definitely looking forward to all that this new year has to offer— we’re launching our new and improved three-year strategic plan and it’s our 20th anniversary!

Here’s an overview of the great things we have planned this year:

In the public policy & advocacy arena:

  • Education, education, education! With the state budget coming up a year from now and the Gubernatorial election set for this fall, we’ll be working hard to make sure legislators know exactly how important it is that the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program remains strong and that the Gubernatorial candidates are keenly aware of the important role land conservation and land trusts play in their communities.
  • Partnerships. The Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition  is accomplishing such great things, we’ll definitely continue working with them to ensure that local, state and federal officials continue to make Great Lakes restoration a priority.
14 Lulu Lake

We’ll be working hard to ensure the best interests of our land trusts are being represented in the political arena.

Providing direct services & technical assistance:

  • Staying true. True to our core objective that is- to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts, ensuring that they have the resources, tools, and know-how to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin so special.
  • More partnerships. We will we bring land trusts together to create efficiencies through shared staff, pooled resources, and joint funding opportunities. We’ll also continue our work with the Lake Michigan Shorelands Alliance to help identify, protect, restore and manage lands that protect the water quality, wildlife habitats, and the scenic integrity of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Basin.
  • Retreat! Our annual Land Trust Retreat this October will offer an unparalleled opportunity for learning, networking, and fun among land trust peers and conservation experts from around the state.
Topic Tables 1

We’ll be doing all we can to ensure our land trusts have what they need, to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin special.

Spreading the good word:

  • Turn up the volume. You may not realize the extent of the value your local land trust brings to you and your loved ones. We’re going to do a better job of making sure you know.
  • Put it in writing. This fall, in honor of the twenty years we have been working to strengthen land trusts, we will be publishing a collection of stories, highlighting the many ways land trusts benefit Wisconsin’s collective health, economy and education.
  • Let’s Party! Our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration is happening September 26th. It’s definitely the place to be if you’re interested in Wisconsin land conservation. And on May 3rd, we’ll be honoring you and others who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy, at our annual Land Legacy Gathering. Better save the dates and grab your party shoes.
Table Bluff - July by Kate

We’ll be spreading the word of our land trusts’ successes and of the countless opportunities and benefits they provide.

As you can see, it’s going to be an incredible, busy year.  We’re looking forward to it and appreciate all of the feedback and help we can get. Feel free to shoot us an email with your thoughts or support the work we’re doing with a tax-deductible gift.  Cheers, to this wonderful new year!

Years in the Making

Local land trusts are in the business of conservation in perpetuity so by their nature they must practice patience, and have compassion for the land AND the people in order to meet their missions successfully. We’re pleased to share just one example of this type of patience and compassion to kick off our year.

Indeed, the passion of a single individual can impact so many lives, and over such span of time. In the last moments of 2013, Helen Boley made an agreement to conserve her land with Driftless Area Land Conservancy.


Helen Boley donated a 637-acre conservation easement to Driftless Area Land Conservancy on her very special property in northwest Iowa County.

This beautiful property is roughly 1 ½ miles west of the 781-acre Dry Dog conservation easements – also protected by DALC – and two miles due south of the 80,000+ acre Lower Wisconsin Riverway.

Boley's land is located within the Blue River Watershed

Boley’s land is located within the Blue River Watershed

This unique landscape, which includes Driftless Area outcrops and rock features, unique pine relict communities and over 6,000 feet of a Class 2 trout stream, the Sand Branch, is a paradise for local nesting birds and wildlife.

Helen Boley with Dave Clutter, Executive Director of Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Helen Boley with Dave Clutter, Executive Director of Driftless Area Land Conservancy

“I donated a conservation easement and also willed my property to Driftless because I’m concerned with the changing whims of government agencies and how they view land. I love my land and I want to see it protected forever.  This is the right thing to do.

 According to Dave Clutter, executive director with Driftless Area Land Conservancy, a Gathering Waters member and LEAP participant, Helen spent over two years communicating with loved ones and advisors and carefully thinking through a range of different options for her property.  In the end Helen donated a conservation easement and willed her property the Conservancy. 

The conservation community is incredibly grateful for Helen’s generosity, foresight and gift to posterity. To know that her special land will be protected forever is truly a wonderful gift to all of us as as we kick off the New Year.

FarmAbility: Building Bridges with the Community

Focusing on the belief that a strong community connection with agriculture is integral to our economic health, retaining our heritage and quality of life, and living sustainably, Leelanau Conservancy in Michigan designed and launched FarmAbility in 2009. This program connects the land trust with farmers, leading them down the path to permanent land protection.

FarmAbility leads farmers on a path of permanent land protection.


Farmers enrolled in FarmAbility receive modest income incentives and long-term planning assistance in exchange for keeping their farmland in production for a minimum of 10 years. This program was adapted by neighboring Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in 2013, and between the two land trusts, over 7000 acres of property have been enrolled so far.

Brian Bourdages of Grand Traverse says, “It’s an honor to work with those farmers and farm families that want to utilize various farmland protection methods to ensure our globally unique farmland remains valuable for farming in the future.”

Interested in the ideas and methods behind this program? You can talk with Bourdages and Tom Nelson, the developer of FarmAbility for Leelanau Conservancy, at an ask-an-expert call on November 1st at 11am. Registration is free for our individual and land trust members.  (Not a member?  Join today!)

These calls are a virtual component to our Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program. Interested in learning more about how LEAP can help you and your land trust? Contact us any time!


Interested in knowing more about farmland protection in Wisconsin? Check out our Working Lands page.

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!




A Week in our Shoes

We had a busy, busy week last week. Want to hear about it?  Here’s a snapshot of some of the day-to-day and out-of-the-ordinary things that fill our days as we work to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts…

Executive Director, mike Strigel at the WLIA Conference

Ben Niemann (GWC board member) and Sue Niemann with Executive Director Mike Strigel at the WLIA Conference

Gathering Waters’ Executive Director spent last week conference hopping!  This may not sound exciting to most of you out there, but we’re land conservation geeks and love the opportunity to hear from industry experts and explore new ideas to enhance our work.  The first conference that Mike attended was the Wisconsin Wetlands Association‘s Conference and presented a valuable opportunity to explore the role that land trusts can play in strategically protecting Wisconsin’s wetland gems.  The second conference, the Wisconsin Land Information Association Conference, helped advance a current GWC initiative in which we’re exploring how geographical tools and technology can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of land trust work.


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Government Relations Director, Mike Carlson, hard at work at his desk.

Mike Carlson, our government relations director, was busy last week getting ready for the release of the Governor’s draft executive budget (due to be released later today!)  To ensure that public funding remains available to land trusts to protect the special places in our communities, Mike works to make the value of land trust work known among our policy-makers. This involves meetings with legislators, as well as connecting local land trusts with their legislators to tell the stories of how their work enhances the quality of life of citizens across the state.


Kate Curlo-Zuka

Land Trust Program Director, Kate Zurlo-Cuva, looking happy to work with Wisconsin land trusts!

Kate spent the week reviewing application for support from land trusts across the state.  Through our Land Trust Excellence and Advancement Program (LEAP), land trusts can apply for one-on-one services that address their particular needs and enhance their capacity and sustainability.  Applications were due last week, and new program participants will be announced in early March.   Stay tuned!


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Program Assistant and event planner extraordinaire, Becky Binz

Sara and Becky have been busy preparing for our upcoming Land Legacy Gathering – a fun and inspiring event that honors the people who make our work possible.  This year we’re thrilled to partner with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy — a special land trust in southwestern Wisconsin working to protect the rugged features and ancient geology of Wisconsin’s driftless area.  If you’d like an opportunity to tour one of the region’s most beautiful protected properties, meet GWC and land trust leadership, or just enjoy some locally-sourced food and drinks, mark your calendar and join us on April 27th!

Associate Director, Sara DeKok

Associate Director, Sara DeKok

At GWC, we love Wisconsin — and all of the special places that make it home.  And these are are just a few of the things that we go to work to do to help people protect those places for all of Wisconsin.

What did you do last week to help protect Wisconsin’s special places.  We’d love to hear your story!  Share it with us here or email

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!


Kettle Moraine Land Trust Earns National Accreditation

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission announced last week that 23 new land trusts around the nation have earned the accreditation seal, with one Wisconsin land trust among them.

Kettle Moraine Land Trust (KMLT) has become just the fifth Wisconsin land trust to earn this coveted recognition!  A Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program participant, KMLT joins Bayfield Regional Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy, Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, and Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  The Nature Conservancy, which works internationally and has a very active Wisconsin Chapter, was also awarded accreditation last week.

President Jerry Petersen with KMLT’s Accreditation Files

Why is this a big deal?  The accreditation seal is truly a mark of distinction for land trusts because it recognizes that they have met strict national standards for excellence, upholding the public trust and ensuring that conservation efforts are permanent.

Sue Heffron, a board member for the KMLT, expresses how important achieving accreditation is: “We learned that the steps to protecting and preserving land are not trivial, and must be done correctly. By achieving the seal of excellence through national land trust accreditation, we embrace the serious work of permanently preserving important lands in our community.” Operating with nonprofit excellence is increasingly important as Kettle Moraine Land Trust increases its pace of conservation work in Walworth County.

Congratulations on this supreme achievement!


A (Cleaner) River Runs Through It

There are countless benefits to land preservation and conservation; the hard work our member land trusts do every day. Examples of these benefits are often hidden from view or difficult to demonstrate. Fortunately, sometimes they are obvious and elegant. It rained heavily in Green Lake County during the afternoon of May 3rd. Bur Zeratsky, president of Green Lake Conservancy (GLC), was on the east end of the lake when he noticed two remarkably distinct streams of water flowing side-by-side from the Silver Creek estuary to drain into the lake. The north side stream was clear and clean-looking. The south stream was brown, muddy, and loaded with runoff silt.

Clear and a silty streams come together to drain into Green Lake

That murky stream largely stemmed from Dakin Creek, which flows through farming operations that include tillage into or very near the stream bank. The “clean” stream came from Silver Creek which flows through several GLC-protected properties that use better farming practices.

A stark example of effects of land use practices on water quality

Bur admits he had a bit of an ‘A-ha!’ moment.  As part of their mission, GLC is dedicated to land conservation that improves water quality and is also working to consider the greater community impact in the Green Lake watershed. To meet this end, GLC wanted a bigger, better tool belt, so to speak.

GLC decided to apply to Gathering Waters Conservancy for customized LEAP services to help professionalize their organization. Over the past two years Gathering Waters conducted a guided assessment using land trust standards and practices, developed an implementation plan to address the recommendations from the assessment, and determined a targeted goal for improving board member communication and record-keeping through development of an online database. As a result, LEAP is helping GLC conform to best practices for the land trust industry and assisting them with meeting their broader goals.

According to Bur, “While my observations would have occurred regardless, my ability to explore action to address the underlying concerns is greatly enhanced due to Gathering Waters’ expertise and generous support. Thanks for all the ongoing support as the Green Lake Conservancy ‘grows up.'”

 To see Bur Zeratsky’s narrated video of the water flowing under the bridge from Silver Creek inlet into Green Lake, please click here.

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!


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