The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
MONROE COUNTY, WIS – George and Carmeen Johnston of Norwalk have protected 20 years of work on their land in the headwaters of the Kickapoo River where they have restored native tallgrass prairie and removed invasive species.
By signing a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy on the 54-acre property near Norwalk they have stated their wish that the prairies and oak woodlands on the property be protected from development, according to Megan Kabele, MVC conservation specialist who worked with the Johnstons on protecting their land. The development restrictions become part of the title to the land, which must be honored by future owners of the land. MVC will monitor the property once a year for compliance, according to the agreement.
George Johnston, a retired stream biologist and a longtime member of the Conservancy, said: “At some point I’m going to be gone. I don’t want whoever buys this place to be able to do whatever with it. We’ve spent a lot of time caring for this place. I want to continue to have control over what happens with this land after I’m not around anymore.”
He added that when he and Carmeen learned their land was in the Kickapoo River watershed they thought protecting the land would make a difference for water quality in the river. “It would be nice if more people would put conservation easements on their land.”
“Prescribed burning continues to be used to control invasive species and encourage native plants. As a result, the Johnston property features an incredible mix of habitat types that testify to their hard work and are a source of inspiration for landowners seeking prairie and woodland restoration,” Kabele said. “The Johnston’s have not only protected their investment in habitat restoration, they are protecting rural open space values and are providing permanent vegetation for cleaner waters.”
Carmeen Johnston said, “We are glad that our little bit of heaven can stay our little bit of heaven. We wouldn’t have known what to do, if it weren’t for Mississippi Valley Conservancy.“
Asked to tell a favorite story about the land, George said that several years after they bought the property, he was out walking on the back side of the property. “All the western sunflowers were in bloom. I started looking around…the more I looked, the more species I found. We didn’t know that back area was a prairie remnant. It was just really exciting to find a prairie remnant. I spent my career in fisheries, but I love plants. I’ve always been more interested in botany than anything else. I’ve spent my whole life outside. If I see something new, I have to identify it.”
Kabele said George’s work restoring the prairie has resulted in more native plants returning. “These improved habitats form natural communities that include wildflowers, grasses, and sedges — critical resources for declining pollinators.”
Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director, said, “Through their conservation easement George and Carmeen have provided an enduring legacy to future generations while achieving peace of mind, knowing that their land will be taken care of far into the future.”