Archived entries for E-News

Changes afoot at Gathering Waters: New staff and a fond farewell

The new year will bring some changes to the faces of Gathering Waters. Read on for an update on GW staffing in 2015:

Sara DeKok, our long-time Associate Director and Member Relations Director will be moving on in January 2015 when she welcomes her second child and puts down roots in the Twin Cities.  She has been a great friend and inspiring leader to all of us here at Gathering Waters and after 12 years with the organization, she will certainly be missed.

We wish her and her family the very best and are happy, knowing she will find a great opportunity in Minnesota to continue her incredible contribution to the conservation movement.

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We wish Sara DeKok a fond farewell.

Kristin Swedlund, whom we welcomed as our new Program Assistant in August, will take on a new role as Gathering Waters’ Development Coordinator upon Sara’s departure.  She has wealth of fundraising experience and is already proving to be a great asset to the land trust community.

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Kristin Swedlund has a wealth of fundraising experience and is a great asset.

And finally, we are eager to welcome a new Program Assistant in early January.  Interviews are currently taking place, so stay tuned for a new face at the office door and voice on the phone!

20 Years is a Name Changer

Wisconsin’s landscapes – miles of beach, soaring bluffs, acres of ancient forest – were shaped by the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, the mighty Mississippi and the last great glacial retreat. In short, Wisconsin is defined by water. And, “gathering of the waters” is an interpretation of Wisconsin’s meaning. So in 1994, when it came time to choose a name for a new organization that would work to protect land statewide, our founders sought to poetically reference the special place in which we would work. And so, Gathering Waters Conservancy was born.


Gathering Waters founders celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2009 (left to right): Bud Jordahl, Rob Chambers, Jean Meanwell, Bill O’ Connor, and Geoff Maclay

As our 20-year-milestone approached, we took a critical look at the way this organization has evolved for and with Wisconsin’s land trusts. While Gathering Waters has entered the vocabulary of many conservationists across Wisconsin and even the country, “Conservancy” was a misnomer, since we do not directly protect land. And, while poetic, Gathering Waters alone left room for confusion over our role.


So today, we announce a small change with major significance. Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts, exists to help land trusts, land owners and communities protect the places that make Wisconsin special.

The new name doesn’t change anything that we do, but we hope it better captures who we are and opens the door to more connection to the people who care about the places that make Wisconsin special.

We hope you like it as much as we do!

Rosholt’s Treasure Protected by North Central Conservancy Trust

Both Jim Benn and Louise Benn Barnard have fond childhood memories of living in Rosholt and know how much the area meant to their father, Dr. Vernard Benn.

Jim Benn said his father, who has since passed away, loved living and working in the area since the day he moved to Rosholt in 1937. Dr. Benn served in the area for 49 years, retiring in 1985, and delivered more than 5,000 babies.

“He treated the town as his office,” Jim Benn said. “He was a hunter and fisherman, and was known for playing hooky whenever he could to go out and spend time in the woods.”

Louise Benn Barnard said she always remembers hiking from their home to the land on Sunday afternoons, and how much she enjoyed playing there as a child.

“We’re thrilled to give this land to these people, because they will enjoy those little things as much as we did.” (Louise Benn Bernard)

These sentiments led the brother and sister, who now live in Massachusetts and California, respectively, to decide the 35 acres their family owned just behind the Rosholt School District should be enjoyed by students and the community.

“It was truly magical, and I knew when I moved I’d always miss Wisconsin,” said Benn Barnard. “We’re thrilled to give this land to these people, because they will enjoy those little things as much as we did.”

After receiving the property, now known as the Vernard A. Benn Conservancy, the school district contacted their local land trust, North Central Conservancy Trust (NCCT) to ensure that it would remain protected, forever. Together, the school district and NCCT designed an easement, which lays out the terms through which the land will be protected.

The property includes much of the Rosholt Millpond and has long been maintained as a nature conservancy, with a trail system designed and cared for by students of the district, and now it is guaranteed to remain this way, benefiting the health and well being of the community for generations to come.  As Jo Seiser (the Executive Director of NCCT at the time) explains, “as part of the easement, the property must continue to be used as an area for students and the public and cannot be developed or divided. The trust will inspect the property annually to ensure it is maintained.”

Students and other community members will be able to enjoy this beautiful property forever.

The community was so thankful for this gift that the school district organized an Earth Day assembly, to thank the Benn family for its donation. The assembly included musical performances by students and statements of appreciation from students and members of the community. “This donation will ensure that this spectacular piece of nature, which is right in our backyard, will be there for the use of our students,” Rosholt District Administrator Marc Christianson said.

Students and other community members will be able to enjoy this beautiful property forever - what a wonderful gift from the Benn family and North Central Conservancy Trust to the Village of Rosholt! This is a great example of why we work so hard to strengthen all of Wisconsin’s land trusts. The value they offer their communities is priceless and permanent.

The Year at Faville Grove

The Madison Audubon Society, a Wisconsin land trust, offers lucky individuals a unique opportunity to gain experience caring for and managing the land through its Land Steward position. Land Stewards supervise intern field crew, monitor and manage habitat restorations, identify and control invasive species, collect native species, conduct prescribed burns, coordinate volunteer work events, lead field trips and outreach events, prepare and manage grants, monitor conservation easements, record sanctuary phenology and more.

Faville Winter Work Party. Photo from

We recently found an article in Madison Audubon Society’s Spring 2014 newsletter written by one of these land stewards- Matt Weber, from the Faville Grove Sanctuary. Here are his favorite memories from the job during 2013:

  • Hearing whip-poor-wills calling in the Lake Mills Ledge.
  • Seeing the short-eared owls return to the Crawfish River floodplain (Martin, Tillotson, and Charles prairies) after a couple years without their presence.
  • Watching a doe find her fawn out in the prairie to nurse.
  • Discovering two new native species on the sanctuary – Prairie parsley (a threatened species in Wisconsin) and grape honeysuckle.
  • Confirming that Eastern Prairie White-Fringed Orchids (on the state endangered species list) are recovering on Snapper and Faville Prairie State Natural Areas after flooding and drought damaged the populations.
  • Collecting 15 pounds of spiderwort seed in the north Lake Mills Ledge Uplands.
  • Conducting our first-ever summer burn and watching the prairie recover with several species flowering late into September and October including spiderwort, compass plant, prairie dock, sawtooth sunflower, ironwood, rattlesnake master, and prairie blazing star.
  • Collecting 139 native species with 48 individual volunteers and 354 volunteer hours (not including groups).

The short eared owl returns. Photo by Bex Ross.

What a rewarding job and such a thoughtful and inspiring reflection on the joys of being a land steward!

Thank you to Madison Audubon Society for sharing this reflection in your newsletter!

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.

New and Improved

As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary this year, we look back at all we’ve accomplished. It makes us proud. And it makes us even more excited to begin the implementation of our new and improved Strategic Plan.  If you’d like to take a look at the plan, you can find a copy on our website. Otherwise, the 3 overarching themes of the plan are below. Either way, we’d love your feedback!

1) We make Wisconsin’s land trusts stronger

Our core objective, since the beginning, has been to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts. Our new strategic plan is a reaffirmation of that core objective. Through this plan, we seek to understand how that objective affects everything we do. We are only successful when land trusts see value in, and are strengthened by our programming.

We will provide land trusts with the training and resources they need to achieve excellence.

2) Collaboration is critical

This plan also brings to the forefront the importance of collaborations. Land trusts are demanding opportunities to collaborate-with each other and with other partners. In the past we have, and will continue to, promote collaboration through networking, shared trainings, and facilitation of joint programming. We will explore opportunities to more smartly deploy land trust resources through the pursuit of economies of scale, shared back offices, and mergers. We will also engage outside partners – traditional and nontraditional - who can be allies in our work.

We will help land trusts achieve even greater results through collaboration and partnerships.

3) Community engagement is key

Finally, as land trusts exist to provide value to communities through land conservation, we will increase opportunities to share the stories of the value that land trusts bring to creating healthy and whole communities. We will also explore opportunities to increase the impact and value of our work by better understanding community needs and examining how our core competencies may provide even more value to our land trust members and Wisconsin’s citizenry.

We will do an even better job of sharing the countless ways land trusts are  fulfilling needs and adding value to their communities.

We’re excited about where we are headed and believe it will provide more value to land trusts, the communities they serve across Wisconsin, and of course - you! Your support is what makes this work possible; Thank you!

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.
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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.
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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!

The Importance of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Recently the Green Bay Press Gazette, among various other major media outlets around the Great Lakes region, published editorials prompted by the Healing Our Waters Coalition. As a member of the Coalition and supporter of funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, we at GWC thought you’d take interest in reading more about the importance of this funding to our drinking water, clean air, and jobs in the Midwest. We’ve pasted an excerpt from the Green Bay Press Gazette’s article below.

Editorial: Restore $300 million in funding for Great Lakes

Baird Creek

Baird Creek, which feeds into Lake Michigan via the Fox River in Green Bay, is protected through the efforts of our member land trust, the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation.

Starting Monday, Congress will begin discussing how to allocate $1.012 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2014.

It’s part of the congressional budget that passed Dec. 18 and increases discretionary spending from $986 billion in 2013 to $1.012 trillion for this fiscal year and $1.014 trillion next. Congress has until Jan. 15 to decide how to spend that money.

We have many suggestions for them, but for now we’ll confine it to one: Fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million.

The initiative aims to protect and restore the Great Lakes. More than $1.3 billion has been invested, so far, to clean up toxic pollution, reduce runoff from farms, restore habitat and fight invasive species.

Locally, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has also resulted in $1.5 million in funding for Brown County for the Cat Island Restoration Project and $2 million for the Renard Isle capping.

However, funding was cut — from $300 million to $285 million — in fiscal year 2013 and it would be reduced further, to $210 million, under current proposals.

The increase in discretionary spending in the next two years gives Congress the chance to fully fund the restoration efforts.

It has bipartisan support from members of the House and Senate in the eight Great Lakes states. They’ve sent letters to an appropriations subcommittee as well as the Corps of Engineers urging the restoration of the $300 million in funding and increased efforts to halt the advance of the Asian carp.

They can see a direct impact from the protection and restoration of this fresh water. For example, lakes Michigan and Superior supply 1.6 million Wisconsin residents with drinking water, provide 170,000 jobs and fishing for 250,000 people a year, according to Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. Across eight states, the impact is drinking water for 30 million people and 1.5 million jobs.

Outside of the Great Lakes states, protection and restoration of this natural resource is very important. The Great Lakes account for 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water and 21 percent of the world’s. If we don’t take steps to protect it now, the problems will only get worse and the price tag will only increase.

We urge state residents to call their representatives in Congress and tell them to lobby for extra funding.

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.

You heard it here first…

The Big Wild Radio Program broadcasts from Middleton, WI and reaches stations throughout Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, North and South Dakota.

Hosts Gundy and The Greek dish out a weekly fix of timely information about hunting and fishing, interesting recipes and politically incorrect humor. Some of their regular guests include Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Jeff Daniels, Babe Winkelman, Charlie Daniels and Bill Dance. And recently, our very own Mike Strigel was invited to the show, to talk about what land trusts are and how Gathering Waters Conservancy supports them.

Our Executive Director, Mike Strigel, sharing some time outside with his family.

You can listen to the interview here to hear, directly from Mike, what GWC does, the importance of land to communities, and finding a balance between conservation and development to strengthen the economy.


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